By Sam Youngman - 05/06/11 09:12 PM EDT
Wrapping up what might be the best week of his presidency, President Obama on Friday visited with the men who killed Osama bin Laden to tell them “job well done.”
Obama visited with the special operations forces at Ft. Campbell, Ky., who carried out the successful mission to kill the man behind the September 11 attacks before addressing the base’s troops, many of whom are either just returning from Afghanistan or still serving there.
“We are going to defeat al Qaeda,” said Obama, who called it a historic week. “We have cut off their head.”
"But I don’t want to fool you. This continues to be a very tough fight. You know that," Obama said.
"And, as your commander-in-chief, I’m confident that we’re going to succeed in this mission."
The president told the more than 2,000 troops gathered, including the “legendary” 101st Airborne “Screaming Eagles,” that his strategy in Afghanistan is working, “and there is no greater evidence of that than justice finally being delivered to Osama bin Laden.”
A White House official said Obama was briefed personally by the troops who killed bin Laden, and the president presented them with the Presidential Unit Citation, “the highest such honor that can be given to a unit - in recognition of their extraordinary service and achievement.”
“In each meeting, the president was able to speak and offer his personal admiration and gratitude for our service members, and to personally greet them,” the official said.
A Pentagon official said that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had already met with the troops who conducted the raid.
"Secretary Gates did not attend the President's meeting today with Special Operators at Fort Campbell because he met with the mission team on Thursday at an undisclosed location," Deputy Assistant Secretary Geoff Morrell said. "He wanted to personally and privately express his admiration and appreciation for their extraordinary service and historic achievement."
The address to soldiers at Ft. Campbell culminates an extraordinary week for the president that began with the dramatic announcement Sunday that bin Laden had been killed.
The president has held several military-themed events this week, and on Thursday visited Ground Zero in New York City, where he laid a wreath in memory of the nearly 3,000 victims of the bin Laden-led attacks.
Obama has seen his approval ratings jump with the news on bin Laden, which spurred spontaneous celebrations near the White House and in New York.
He won more good news earlier on Friday with a better-than-expected report from the Labor Department that found the private sector added 268,000 jobs in April.
At Fort Campbell, Obama was effusive in his praise for U.S. servicemen and women in his remarks.
“I came here for a simple reason: To say thank you on behalf of America,” Obama said.
Obama also thanked the government and intelligence workers who over the past decade had worked to find bin Laden. He did not mention former President George W. Bush.
Obama said he told the team that carried out the mission to kill bin Laden “job well done.”
The president said that when he went to Ground Zero in New York City on Thursday, he met with victims' families and first responders who were promised that the U.S. would not forget what happened on Sept. 11, 2001.
Obama said he met with the “extraordinary special ops folks who honored that promise.”
“When I gave the order, they were ready,” Obama said. “And in recent days, the world has learned just how ready they were.”
Because of their efforts, Obama said, the man who orchestrated the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil almost 10 years ago “will never threaten America again.”