USA — Obama Lauds Military for Service in Iraq, Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, Aug. 2, 2010 — After near­ly a decade of fight­ing in Iraq and Afghanistan, today’s mil­i­tary has become one of the great­est gen­er­a­tions to serve, Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma said today.

In a speech at the Dis­abled Amer­i­can Vet­er­ans Nation­al con­fer­ence in Atlanta, Oba­ma laud­ed vet­er­ans for their ser­vice and sac­ri­fice. He praised today’s mil­i­tary for bring­ing the Iraq war to a close, as well as embrac­ing the dif­fi­cult mis­sion ahead in Afghanistan.

“For the past nine years, in Afghanistan and Iraq, they have borne the bur­dens of war,” Oba­ma said. “They, and their fam­i­lies, have faced the great­est test in the his­to­ry of our all-vol­un­teer force, serv­ing tour after tour, year after year.

“Through their extra­or­di­nary ser­vice,” the pres­i­dent con­tin­ued, “they have writ­ten their own chap­ters in the Amer­i­can sto­ry, and by any mea­sure, have earned their place among the great­est of gen­er­a­tions.”

The U.S. com­bat mis­sion in Iraq offi­cial­ly ends Aug. 31, a goal Oba­ma set in Feb­ru­ary 2009, just after enter­ing office. Vio­lence in Iraq over the past year is at an all-time law since the war began there in 2003.

The Unit­ed States has with­drawn 90,000 troops from Iraq over the last year and a half. About 70,000 troops are in Iraq today, and by Sept. 1, only 50,000 U.S. troops will remain, tran­si­tion­ing the U.S. mis­sion from com­bat to sup­port­ing and train­ing Iraqi forces.

All U.S. forces are sched­uled to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, Oba­ma said.

Through the mission’s end date, the pres­i­dent added, U.S. troops will part­ner with Iraqis in con­duct­ing coun­tert­er­ror­ism mis­sions and safe­guard­ing civil­ians. But although the mis­sion may be chang­ing in Iraq, he said, it’s still dan­ger­ous.

“There are still those with bombs and bul­lets who will try to stop Iraq’s progress,” he said. “The hard truth is we have not seen the end of Amer­i­can sac­ri­fice in Iraq. But make no mis­take: our com­mit­ment in Iraq is chang­ing from a mil­i­tary effort led by our troops to a civil­ian effort led by our diplo­mats. And as we mark the end of America’s com­bat mis­sion in Iraq, a grate­ful Amer­i­ca must pay trib­ute to all who served there.”

As the Iraq war winds down, the war in Afghanistan con­tin­ues. About 98,000 U.S. troops, includ­ing almost all of the 30,000 rein­force­ments Oba­ma ordered in Decem­ber, are deployed there.

“Let us nev­er for­get it was Afghanistan where al-Qai­da plot­ted and trained to mur­der 3,000 inno­cent peo­ple on 9/11,” Oba­ma said. “If Afghanistan were to be engulfed by an even wider insur­gency, al-Qai­da and its ter­ror­ist affil­i­ates would have even more space to plan their next attack. And as pres­i­dent of the Unit­ed States, I refuse to let that hap­pen.” Chal­lenges are cer­tain in Afghanistan, the pres­i­dent said, but progress has been made since he announced his Afghanistan strat­e­gy in Decem­ber. The new pol­i­cy and approach in Afghanistan calls for increas­ing mil­i­tary efforts to reverse Tal­iban gains, train­ing and devel­op­ing Afghan secu­ri­ty forces and pro­mot­ing good gov­er­nance for the coun­try and its peo­ple.

“We’re focused on goals that are clear and achiev­able,” Oba­ma said.

U.S. forces are aggres­sive­ly engag­ing the Tal­iban and insur­gent lead­ers in the south and along the Pak­istan bor­der. Both are areas where mil­i­tants were once able to roam free. Afghan secu­ri­ty forces are also being heav­i­ly trained and recruit­ed to oper­ate in these regions.

The civil­ian effort is push­ing the Afghan gov­ern­ment to take more respon­si­bil­i­ty and account­abil­i­ty for its resources and work, Oba­ma said.

“The Afghan gov­ern­ment has take con­crete steps to fos­ter devel­op­ment, to com­bat cor­rup­tion and to put for­ward a rein­te­gra­tion plan that allows Afghans to lay down their arms,” he said.

Oba­ma also praised Pakistan’s effort to com­bat extrem­ism on its side of the bor­der it shares with Afghanistan, say­ing “major blows have been struck against al-Qai­da and its lead­er­ship” there.

“In this region and beyond, we will tol­er­ate no safe haven for al-Qai­da and their extrem­ist allies,” he said. “We will dis­rupt, dis­man­tle and ulti­mate­ly defeat al-Qai­da. And we will give our troops the resources and equip­ment to get the job done and keep our coun­try safe.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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