By Ian Swanson - 12/25/14 10:50 PM EST
President Obama vowed that Afghanistan will not be a source of terrorist attacks in the future, in an address just a week before the U.S. combat mission in the country ends.
Speaking to U.S. troops stationed at the Marine Corps Base in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, Obama said their service had given Afghanistan a chance “to rebuild its own country.
U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan for 13 years and counting, but are scheduled to completely leave the country at the end of 2016, when Obama leaves office.
By the end of this year, Obama had planned to have just 9,800 troops in Afghanistan. It’s not clear if that target will be met, but the White House this month said there will be fewer than 15,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan at the end of the year.
There are significant doubts, however, about how safe Afghanistan will be after U.S. troops leave the country, and whether it will again become an easy home for terrorists.
Sen. John McCainJohn McCainOvernight Defense: Congress overrides Obama 9/11 veto | Pentagon breathes easy after funding deal | More troops heading to Iraq McCain comments won't derail Bergdahl case Senators already eyeing changes to 9/11 bill after veto override MORE (R-Ariz.), the incoming Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman and the Republican who Obama defeated for the presidency in 2008, was in Afghanistan on Thursday.
He told Fox News on Thursday that Afghanistan could turn into another Iraq after the departure of U.S. troops. Sunnit extremists with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria have overtaken much of Iraq, and have executed several Western hostages.
“We’re going to see the same movie we saw in Iraq,” McCain told Fox.
He urged that Obama reverse course and leave behind a larger “stabilizing force” in Afghanistan.
Obama in the rest of his remarks stuck to giving thanks to U.S. troops stationed around the globe.
“We still have folks in Afghanistan helping the Afghan security forces. We have people helping to deal with Ebola in Africa and obviously we have folks stationed all around the world,” Obama said.
“But the world is better, it’s safer, it’s more peaceful, it’s more prosperous and our homeland is protected because of you and the sacrifices each and every day,” he continued.
“So on a day when we celebrate the Prince of Peace and many of us count or blessings one of the greatest blessings we have is the extraordinary dedication and sacrifices you all make. We could not be more thankful. I know I speak for everyone in the entire country when I say, we salute you.”