WASHINGTON - Returning from a flying visit to Afghanistan, President Barack Obama on Monday said the decade-long war in the strife-torn country will be over by the end of this year.“By the end of this year, our war in Afghanistan will finally come to an end,” Obama said during the annual Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
After a surprise visit to Bagram Air Field, the US base in Afghanistan, Obama said US troops there are coming home from the conflict that began a month after the terror attacks of Sept 11, 2001. “We’re at a pivotal moment,” he remarked. Obama and his national security aides are talking about the retention of a residual force in Afghanistan after this year, a small force that would train Afghan security forces and possibly engage in specific counterterrorism operations. The US lost a total of 2,300 soldiers in the Afghan war.
During his speech, Obama praised veterans. “Everything that we hold precious in this country was made possible by Americans who gave their all,” he said. “And because of them, our nation is stronger, safer and will always remain a shining beacon of freedom for the rest of the world.” The president delivered his Memorial Day speech some 4½ hours after his return to the White House. During his Sunday trip to Afghanistan, Obama received a briefing from commanders at Bagram Air Base, spoke at a rally for the troops and visited wounded warriors at the base hospital.
Earlier, in Bagram, Obama reaffirmed US-post 2014 commitment to Afghans. “Now, even as our combat mission ends later this year, I want everybody to know, in this country and across the region, America’s commitment to the people of Afghanistan will endure. With our strategic partnership, we’ll continue to stand by Afghans as they strengthen their institutions, as they build their economy, as they improve their lives – men and women, and boys and girls,” he said. “Al Qaeda is on its heels in this part of the world, and that’s because of you,” Obama said.
At the same, he added, “Everyone knows Afghanistan is still a very dangerous place.” The United States, he said, would be prepared to continue cooperating with Afghan partners on two security missions – training and equipping Afghan forces and targeting counterterrorism targets against al Qaeda.”
He was hopeful of progress on the US and Afghanistan reaching a bilateral security accord. “And once Afghanistan has sworn in its new president, I’m hopeful we’ll sign a bilateral security agreement that lets us move forward. And with
that bilateral security agreement, assuming it is signed, we can plan
for a limited military presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014.”
“Because after all the sacrifices we’ve made, we want to preserve the gains that you have helped to win. And we’re going to make sure that Afghanistan can never again, ever, be used again to launch an attack against our country,” he said, addressing the troops.
“So our combat mission here will come to an end. But our obligations to you and your families have only just begun. The al Qaeda leadership may be on the ropes, but in other regions of the world al Qaeda affiliates pose a serious threat. We’re going to have to stay strong and we’re going to have to stay vigilant,” he noted in Bagram.
Shortly after arriving back at the White House early Monday morning from Bagram, Obama hosted a Memorial Day breakfast. Guests included senior members of the military leadership, as well as veterans and military families’ organisations.
Obama then travelled to Arlington cemetery where he placed the traditional wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The president also noted that this year is the 150th anniversary of the holy space at Arlington National Cemetery, created in the wake of the civil war as “a final resting place for those willing to lay down their lives for the country that we love.”