Obama: US 'safer, more secure' because of Afghanistan War

President Obama is marking the end of the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan with a statement that says he is bringing the conflict to a “responsible conclusion.”

In his statement, Obama argues that the United States is safer and more secure because of the 13-year conflict, the longest war in U.S. history.

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He argues that troops and intelligence personnel have devastated al Qaeda’s core leadership, delivered “justice” to Osama bin Laden, disrupted terrorist plots and saved U.S. lives.

He also said the forces have helped the Afghan people “reclaim their communities, take the lead for their own security, hold historic elections and complete the first democratic transfer of power in their country's history.”

The U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan officially ended Sunday, with a little more than 10,000 U.S. troops left in the country to back up Afghanistan’s forces.

Afghanistan will stand as a legacy issue for Obama, who, during his 2008 presidential campaign, argued that conflict has been pushed to the side in favor of the war in Iraq. Obama argued that was a mistake, and he increased the U.S. presence in Afghanistan when he took office.

After a surge of troops, however, the president began to withdrawn troops in his second term, and he has pledged that all U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of 2016.

It is unclear how stable Afghanistan will remain after U.S. troops leave, though Obama this week said it will not longer be a “source” of future terrorist attacks against the United States.

GOP critics of the administration’s strategy, such as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), argue the country could slip into instability without a heavy U.S. presence.

But public opinion has been against the Afghanistan War, with surveys suggesting Americans are weary of the long fight.

In his statement, Obama emphasized that there were more than 180,000 troops in Afghanistan and Iraq when he became president, and there are fewer than 15,000 now.

His comments also hailed U.S. troops for their work.

“We honor the profound sacrifices that have made this progress possible,” Obama said. “We salute every American — military and civilian, including our dedicated diplomats and development workers — who have served in Afghanistan, many on multiple tours, just as their families have sacrificed at home.”

Obama pledged that wounded veterans from the conflict would receive world-class care and that the more than 2,000 Americans killed in the fighting would be remembered.

“We pledge to stand with their Gold Star families who need the everlasting love and support of a grateful nation,” he said.

Here is Obama’s full statement:

Today's ceremony in Kabul marks a milestone for our country.  For more than 13 years, ever since nearly 3,000 innocent lives were taken from us on 9/11, our nation has been at war in Afghanistan.  Now, thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, our combat mission in Afghanistan is  ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.

On this day we give thanks to our troops and intelligence personnel who have been relentless against the terrorists responsible for 9/11--devastating the core al Qaeda leadership, delivering justice to Osama bin Laden, disrupting terrorist plots and saving countless American lives.  We are safer, and our nation is more secure, because of their service. At the same time, our courageous military and diplomatic personnel in Afghanistan--along with our NATO allies and coalition partners--have helped the Afghan people reclaim their communities, take the lead for their own security, hold historic elections and complete the first democratic transfer of power in their country's history. 

We honor the profound sacrifices that have made this progress possible. We salute every American--military and civilian, including our dedicated diplomats and development workers--who have served in Afghanistan, many on multiple tours, just as their families have sacrificed at home.  We pledge to give our many wounded warriors, with wounds seen and unseen, the world-class care and treatment they have earned.  Most of all, we remember the more than 2,200 American patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan, and we pledge to stand with their Gold Star families who need the everlasting love and support of a grateful nation.

Afghanistan remains a dangerous place, and the Afghan people and their security forces continue to make tremendous sacrifices in defense of their country.  At the invitation of the Afghan government, and to preserve the gains we have made together, the United States--along with our allies and partners--will maintain a limited military presence in Afghanistan to train, advise and assist Afghan forces and to conduct counterterrorism operations against the remnants of al Qaeda.  Our personnel will continue to face risks, but this reflects the enduring commitment of the United States to the Afghan people and to a united, secure and sovereign Afghanistan that is never again used as a source of attacks against our nation.

These past 13 years have tested our nation and our military.  But compared to the nearly 180,000 American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan when I took office, we now have fewer than 15,000 in those countries. Some 90 percent of our troops are home. Our military remains the finest in the world, and we will remain vigilant against terrorist attacks and in defense of the freedoms and values we hold dear.  And with growing prosperity here at home, we enter a new year with new confidence, indebted to our fellow Americans in uniform who keep us safe and free.