By Sam Youngman - 12/03/10 06:45 PM EST
President Obama made a surprise trip to Afghanistan on Friday where he
thanked U.S. troops and praised their efforts in the country.
With the war in its ninth year and Obama's year-end review of the war strategy he put in place just days away, the president flew through the night to say thank you to the troops during the holiday season.
"I wanted to make sure that I could spend a little time this holiday with the men and women of the finest fighting force that the world has ever known," Obama said to raucous applause.
The president told the more than 3,000 troops gathered at Bagram Air Base that the additional troops he ordered to the country are now in place, "and thanks to your service, we are making important progress."
"You will succeed in your mission," Obama said.
Obama ordered an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in a speech at West Point about one year ago.
"We said we were going to break the Taliban's momentum, and that's what you're doing," Obama said. "Going on offense. Tired of being on defense."
The president noted that he met with wounded soldiers before addressing the troops, and he awarded some purple hearts at the Bagram hospital.
"This is a tough business," Obama said, wiping at his eye. "Progress comes slow, and there are going to be difficult days ahead."
Still, the president said, the troops are protecting the U.S. by ensuring that Afghanistan will not be used as a safe haven for terrorists as it was before 9/11.
"That's why your mission matters so much," Obama said. "That's why you must succeed."
He added: "We remain the land of the free only because we are also the home of the brave."
In advance of the December review of the strategy, White House officials traveling with the president said the trip was less about Obama getting a view of what's happening on the ground and more about visiting the troops.
The president did, however, talk to Afghan President Hamid Karzai by phone for about 15 minutes Friday. The original plan called for Obama to travel by helicopter to Kabul to meet with Karzai in person, but bad weather changed that.
Obama's strategy calls for U.S. and coalition troops to begin transferring security responsibilities to Afghan troops next year.
Obama and NATO recently agreed that 2014 is the target date for the complete transfer of security responsibilities with NATO forces continuing in a support role.
The president is expected back at the White House on Saturday.