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John J. Kruzel - American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 28, 2010 - President Barack Obama today paid a surprise visit to troops in Afghanistan, delivering a message of praise to American servicemembers on behalf of the United States.
Speaking at Bagram Airfield to an audience of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, Obama said support for deployed servicemembers transcends partisan politics.
"I know that sometimes when you're watching TV, the politics back home may look a little messy, and people are yelling and hollering, and Democrats this and Republicans that," he said. "I want you to understand this: There's no daylight when it comes to support of all of you. There's no daylight when it comes to supporting our troops. That brings us together.
"We are all incredibly proud. We all honor what you do," he continued. "And all of you show all of America what's possible when people come together, not based on color or creed, not based on faith or station, but based on a commitment to serve together, to bleed together and to succeed together as one people, as Americans."
The Obama family reportedly spent the weekend at the remote presidential residence at Camp David, from which the commander in chief quietly departed today en route to Afghanistan, where he also met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Obama reiterated that continued military operations against the type of Afghanistan-based terrorism that led to the 9/11 attacks are necessary for American security, saying the "folks back home are relying on you."
"I want every American serving in Afghanistan, military and civilian, to know, whether you're working the flightline here at Bagram or patrolling a village down in Helmand, whether you're standing watch at a forward operating base or training our Afghan partners or working with the Afghan government," he said, "your services are absolutely necessary, absolutely essential, to America's safety and security."
Roughly a third of the 30,000-troop surge Obama announced for Afghanistan in December is in place, with 18,000 of the additional forces expected to be in Afghanistan by late spring. About 83,000 American and 45,000 allied forces are in Afghanistan now according to the latest available figures, as troop levels in Iraq continue to drop.
"Many of the troops that I ordered to Afghanistan have begun to arrive, and more are on the way," the president told about 2,000 servicemembers in Bagram's "Clamshell" amphitheater. "And we'll continue to work with Congress to make sure that you've got the equipment that you need, particularly as we complete our drawdown in Iraq. We're providing more helicopters, we're providing more intelligence and reconnaissance capabilities, more special operations forces, more armored vehicles that can save lives."
In Afghanistan, the battle last month that routed the Taliban from its former stronghold in Marja was cast as an early test of the strategy that includes increasing the number of American and allied troops in NATO's International Security Assistance Force and ramping up operations against militants in the southern and eastern parts of Afghanistan.
"Together with our coalition and Afghan partners, our troops have pushed the Taliban out of their stronghold in Marja," he said. "We've changed the way we operate and interact with the Afghan people. We see Afghans reclaiming their communities, and we see new partnerships that will help them build their own future and increase their security."
Obama said Americans have responded to the renewed offensive with "a huge increase in support," reflecting their understanding of troops' sacrifices and the clarity of mission servicemembers are bringing to bear. Military officials have said Kandahar, considered the spiritual epicenter of the Taliban, will be the next focus for military forces in Afghanistan.
The president highlighted the sacrifices made in Afghanistan, saying U.S. troops today represent a link to servicemembers who have worn the American uniform for hundreds of years.
"Here in Afghanistan, each one of you is part of an unbroken line of American servicemembers who've sacrificed for over two centuries. You're protecting your fellow citizens from danger. You're serving alongside old allies and new friends," he said. "You're bringing hope and opportunity to a people who have known a lot of pain and a lot of suffering."
Obama acknowledged the way forward in Afghanistan won't be easy, but added that the challenges are not insurmountable.
"There are going to be some difficult days ahead. There's going to be setbacks," he said. "We face a determined enemy, but we also know this: The United States of America does not quit once it starts on something. You don't quit, the American armed services does not quit. We keep at it, we persevere, and together with our partners we will prevail. I am absolutely confident of that."