President visits Bliss: Obama pledges responsible drawdown in Afghanistan
American Forces Press Service:
The United States will remain focused on the mission in Afghanistan while working toward ending the war in a responsible way that protects everything its military members have sacrificed for there, President Barack Obama said here Friday.
Obama traveled to Fort Bliss last week to honor servicemembers he credited with making a turnaround in Iraq and also helping Afghanistan chart its own future.
“You left Iraq with honor, your mission complete, your heads high,” the president told the assembly of active, National Guard and reserve troops and their families. “And today Iraq has a chance to forge its own destiny.”
Last visiting Fort Bliss two years ago, Obama recalled reminding the troops there that “we had more work to do, including taking the fight to al-Qaida.”
Flashing forward to today, the president cited progress.
“With allies and partners, we’ve taken out more top al-Qaida terrorists than at any time since 9/11,” he said. “And thanks to the courage of our forces, al-Qaida is on the road to defeat, and bin Laden will never again threaten the United States of America.”
Obama recognized Fort Bliss troops who have recently returned from Afghanistan or are currently deployed there, and some scheduled to deploy soon.
“I’ve got to tell you the truth,” he said. “This is still a very tough fight.”
The president recognized the sacrifices made, noting that he met earlier that day with Gold Star families who lost loved ones in the conflict. “Your loved ones live on in the soul of the nation. We will honor them always,” he told the family members.
“Because of their sacrifice, because of your service, we pushed the Taliban back,” the president said. “We’re training forces. The transition to Afghan lead is under way. And, as promised, more than 30,000 of our troops will have come home by next month.”
Obama offered assurance that “just as in Iraq, we are going to end this war responsibly.”
The Afghans will take the lead for their own security next year, he noted, and the transition will be complete in 2014.
“And even as this war ends, we will stay vigilant until Afghanistan is never again a source for attacks against America – never again,” Obama said, drawing cheers from the crowd. “So we’re not just ending these wars. We’re doing it in a way that keeps America safe and makes America stronger.”
That, the president said, includes the military. Drawing down forces, he said, will mean fewer deployments, which creates more time to train, improve readiness, prepare for the future and reconnect with families.
“So make no mistake: ending the wars responsibly makes us safer, and it makes our military even stronger,” he said.
Obama emphasized, in drawing down the force in Afghanistan, that the United States must remain ready for the challenges ahead. “In a world of serious threats, I will never hesitate to use force to defend the United States of America or our interests,” he said.
“At the same time, I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary,” he pledged. “And when we do, we will give you the equipment and the clear mission and the smart strategy and the support back home that you need to get the job done. We owe you that.”
The president recognized that the future, post-conflict military will be leaner. He promised, however, that the United States will continue making the investments needed “to keep you the absolute best military in the world, bar none.”
The United States will always maintain its military superiority, he said.
“In you, we’ve got the best-trained, best-led, best-equipped military in human history. And as commander in chief, I am going to keep it that way,” the president said.
Obama reaffirmed his pledge that the United States will continue to support those who have served and sacrificed on behalf of the nation.
“We may be turning a page on a decade of war, but America’s responsibilities to you have only just begun,” he said.
The president also addressed the concerns of servicemembers transitioning into civilian life.
As the United States draws down in Afghanistan it remains committed to its military members, veterans and families by providing the support services they may need and opportunities to transition to meaningful civilian careers, Obama said.
“Just as we give you the best equipment and technology on the battlefield, we need to give you the best support and care when you come home,” the president told about 5,000 Soldiers gathered in the East Fort Bliss aircraft hangar. “We may be turning a page on a decade of war, but America’s responsibilities to you have only just begun.”
Sharing his conversations earlier today during a private roundtable with Soldiers and their families, Obama acknowledged that “coming home can be its own struggle, especially for our wounded warriors.”
He noted a new executive order he signed Friday that gives troops, veterans and family members better access to mental health care, as well as resources already being put toward diagnosing and treating those with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress and other difficulties.
“We’re going to add even more counselors and mental-health providers,” he said. “We’re launching a new awareness campaign, starting tomorrow, and I’m directing a task force to find out what works best so we’re doing everything we can to help those in need and save lives.”
Seeking help isn’t a sign of weakness, rather “it’s a sign of strength,” the president said.
While marshaling federal efforts, Obama said taking care of servicemembers, veterans and military families is everyone’s job.
“Americans are united in their support of service members and their families, Obama told the audience.
“Only 1 percent of Americans may wear the uniform,” he said, “but 100 percent of Americans need to be supporting you and your families 100 percent.”
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