Obama marks Iraq War anniversary at Ft. Bliss

President Obama returned to Ft. Bliss Friday two years to the day after he declared the end of U.S. combat operation in Iraq at the El Paso, Tex., Army base. 

Obama told the troops at Ft. Bliss that the announcement two years ago marked a “historic moment” for the nation, and that he followed through on his pledge to get all U.S. troops out of Iraq.

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“At the time I know some folks didn't believe me. They were skeptical. Some thought the end of combat was just word games and semantics. But I meant what I said,” Obama said. “Today Iraq has a chance to forge its own destiny, and there are no American troops fighting and dying in Iraq.”

Obama also addressed the war in Afghanistan, saying it was being brought to a close “responsibly” so that Afghanistan will never again be the source of terrorist attacks against the United States.

“If you hear anyone trying to say that America is in decline or that our influence has waned, don't you believe it, because here's the truth: Our alliances have never been stronger,” Obama said.

The president’s address at Ft. Bliss also included an executive order he issued to improve mental healthcare and suicide prevention services for veterans.

The visit was an official White House trip, but it had campaign implications one day after Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney accepted the nomination and ahead of the Democrats’ convention next week. Both campaigns have been making an effort to reach out to veterans.

Behind the scenes ahead of Obama’s speech, his campaign and the White House criticized Romney for not mentioning the troops in Afghanistan during his acceptance speech.

“In an almost 45-minute speech Romney didn’t find time to mention our troops in Afghanistan,” Obama campaign spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said on a conference call with reporters.

Romney’s campaign responded by noting his address at the American Legion Wednesday and accusing Obama of failing “in his duty as Commander in Chief to win the home front.”

“The Obama campaign's attack on Gov. Romney today is another attempt to politicize the war in Afghanistan, a war in which President Obama has dangerously based his decisions on political calculations, endangering our mission," Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in a statement.

The Romney campaign also hit Obama on jobs for veterans.

“President Obama has repeatedly promised to fight for jobs for our nation’s veterans – but after nearly four years, it’s clear he just hasn’t delivered," Romney spokesman Ryan Williams. "The President’s failed economic policies have left young returning veterans facing double-digit unemployment, and even more veterans will be forced on to the unemployment lines if his $1 trillion in looming defense cuts are enacted."

In his speech at the American Legion Wednesday, Romney criticized the Obama administration for allowing a backlog of Veterans Affairs mental health cases to pile up, and said he would do more to get veterans quick access to the care they need.

In the executive order, Obama instructed the VA to hire an additional 800 mental health workers, and he called on the VA to increase the veteran crisis line capacity by 50 percent before the end of the year.

He also told the VA, Defense, Education and Health and Human Services to launch a study on prevention and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

— Jonathan Easley contributed.