Barack Obama

Address to the Troops in Afghanistan

delivered 28 March 2010, Clamshell, Bagram Air Field


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[AUTHENTICITY CERTIFIED: Text version below transcribed directly from audio]

Howís it going, Bagram? Well, you know, it turns out that the American people, they let me use this plane called Air Force One.  And so I thought Iíd come over and say hello.

Couple of people I want to thank, in addition to Sergeant Major Eric Johnson for the outstanding introduction and his great service.  I want to thank Major General Mike Scaparrotti.  Thank you for your great work as commanding general.  I want to thank Ms. Dawn Liberi, who is the senior civilian representative of Regional Command East, for her outstanding work; and Brigadier General Steven Kwast, commander -- commander 455th Air Expeditionary Wing.  Thank you all for your outstanding service.  Give them a big round of applause.

Thank you for the unbelievable welcome.  I know this was on a little bit of short notice.


THE PRESIDENT:  No worries.  It is great to be here at Bagram, and itís great to see all the services.  Weíve got Air Force, weíve got Army -- weíve got Navy -- weíve got some Marines in the house.  And weíve got a lot of civilians here too -- who are making an outstanding contribution to this effort, and Iím honored to be joined by Americaís outstanding civilian military leadership team here in Afghanistan, Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, whoís doing outstanding work, and the commander of our 43-nation coalition, General Stan McChrystal.  The two of them together have paired up to do an extraordinarily difficult task, but they are doing it extraordinarily well and we are proud of them.  Please give your outstanding team a big round of applause.  Theyíve got my full confidence and my full support.

Weíre also joined by troops from some of our coalition partners, because this is not simply an American mission or even just a NATO mission.  Al Qaeda and their extremist allies are a threat to the people of Afghanistan and a threat to the people of America, but theyíre also a threat to people all around the world, and thatís why weíre so proud to have our coalition partners here with us.  Thank you very much for the great work that you do.  We salute you and we honor you for all the sacrifices you make, and you are a true friend of the United States of America.  Thank you very much.

And we also salute the members of the Afghan National Army who are fighting alongside all of you.  Theyíre risking their lives to protect their country.  And as I told President Karzai today, the United States is a partner but our intent is to make sure that the Afghans have the capacity to provide for their own security.  That is core to our mission, and we are proud of the work that they are doing and the continuing increased capacity that weíre seeing out of Afghan national security forces.  So thank you very much for the great work youíre doing to take responsibility for security here in your own country.

And to the Afghan people, I want to say that Iím honored to be a guest in your country.  Now, the Afghans have suffered for decades -- decades of war.  But we are here to help Afghans forge a hard-won peace while realizing the extraordinary potential of the Afghan people, Afghanistanís sons and daughters, from the soldiers and the police to the farmers and the young students.  And we want to build a lasting partnership founded upon mutual interests and mutual respect, and Iím looking forward to returning to Afghanistan many times in the years to come.

Now, I know for most of you, you didnít get a lot of notice that I was coming.  But I want you to understand, thereís no visit that I considered more important than this visit Iím making right now, because I have no greater honor than serving as your Commander-in-Chief.  And it is a privilege to look out and see the extraordinary efforts of Americaís sons and daughters here in Afghanistan.  So my main job here today is to say thank you on behalf of the entire American people.

You are part of the finest military in the history of the world, and we are proud of you.  And so I want you to know that everybody back home is proud of you.  Everybody back home is grateful.  And everybody understands the sacrifices that you have made and your families have made to keep America safe and to keep America secure in this vital mission.

And I know itís not easy.  Youíre far away from home.  You miss your kids.  You miss your spouses, your family, your friends.  Some of you, this is your second or your third or your fourth tour of duty.  Iíll tell you right now the same thing that I said at West Point last December.  If I thought for a minute that Americaís vital interests were not served, were not at stake here in Afghanistan, I would order all of you home right away.

So I want you to know, I want every American serving in Afghanistan, military and civilian, to know, whether youíre working the flight line here at Bagram or patrolling a village down in Helmand, whether youíre standing watch at a forward operating base or training our Afghan partners or working with the Afghan government, your services are absolutely necessary, absolutely essential to Americaís safety and security.  Those folks back home are relying on you.

We canít forget why weíre here.  We did not choose this war.  This was not an act of America wanting to expand its influence; of us wanting to meddle in somebody elseís business.  We were attacked viciously on 9/11.  Thousands of our fellow countrymen and women were killed.  And this is the region where the perpetrators of that crime, al Qaeda, still base their leadership.  Plots against our homeland, plots against our allies, plots against the Afghan and Pakistani people are taking place as we speak right here.  And if this region slides backwards, if the Taliban retakes this country and al Qaeda can operate with impunity, then more American lives will be at stake.  The Afghan people will lose their chance at progress and prosperity.  And the world will be significantly less secure.

And as long as Iím your Commander-in-Chief, I am not going to let that happen.  Thatís why you are here.  Iíve made a promise to all of you who serve.  I will never send you into harmís way unless itís absolutely necessary.  I anguish in thinking about the sacrifices that so many of you make.  Thatís why I promise I will never send you out unless it is necessary.

But thatís only part of the promise, because the other part of the promise is that when it is absolutely necessary, you will be backed up by a clear mission and the right strategy to finish the job, to get the job done.  And I am confident all of you are going to get the job done right here in Afghanistan.  I am confident of that.

Thatís why I ordered more troops and civilians here into Afghanistan shortly after taking office.  Thatís why we took a hard look and forged a new strategy and committed more resources in December.  Thatís why we pushed our friends and allies and partners to pony up more resources themselves, more commitments of aid, and additional forces and trainers.

Our broad mission is clear:  We are going to disrupt and dismantle, defeat and destroy al Qaeda and its extremist allies.  That is our mission.  And to accomplish that goal, our objectives here in Afghanistan are also clear:  Weíre going to deny al Qaeda safe haven.  Weíre going to reverse the Talibanís momentum.  Weíre going to strengthen the capacity of Afghan security forces and the Afghan government so that they can begin taking responsibility and gain confidence of the Afghan people.

And our strategy includes a military effort that takes the fight to the Taliban while creating the conditions for greater security and a transition to the Afghans; but also a civilian effort that improves the daily lives of the Afghan people, and combats corruption; and a partnership with Pakistan and its people, because we canít uproot extremists and advance security and opportunity unless we succeed on both sides of the border.  Most of you understand that.

Many of the troops that I ordered to Afghanistan have begun to arrive, and more are on the way.  And weíll continue to work with Congress to make sure that youíve got the equipment that you need, particularly as we complete our drawdown in Iraq.  Weíre providing more helicopters, weíre providing more intelligence and reconnaissance capabilities, more special operations forces, more armored vehicles that can save lives.

And here in Afghanistan youíve gone on the offensive.  And the American people back home are noticing.  We have seen a huge increase in support in -- stateside, because people understand the kinds of sacrifices that you guys are making, and the clarity of mission that youíre bringing to bear.

And together with our coalition and Afghan partners, our troops have pushed the Taliban out of their stronghold in Marja.  Weíve changed the way we operate and interact with the Afghan people.  We see Afghans reclaiming their communities, and we see new partnerships that will help them build their own future and increase their security.

And across the border, Pakistan is mounting major offensives.  Weíve seen violent extremists pushed out of their sanctuaries.  Weíve struck major blows against al Qaeda leadership as well as the Talibanís.  They are hunkered down.  Theyíre worried about their own safety.  Itís harder for them to move, itís harder for them to train and to plot and to attack, and all of that makes America safer.  And we are going to keep them on the run because that is whatís going to be required in order to assure that our families back home have the security that they need.  Thatís the work that you are doing.

So thanks to you, thereís been progress these last several months.  But we know there are going to be some difficult days ahead.  Thereís going to be setbacks.  We face a determined enemy.  But we also know this:  The United States of America does not quit once it starts on something.  You donít quit, the American armed services does not quit, we keep at it, we persevere, and together with our partners we will prevail.  I am absolutely confident of that.

And I also want you to know that as youíre doing your duty here, weíre going to do right by you back home.  Weíre going to help take care of your families, and thatís why the First Lady Michelle Obama visited with military families and makes sure that their needs are met.  Thatís why she stays after me once she gets home, when Iím at the White House.  And weíre going to make sure that we are keeping to improve your pay and your benefits, but also things like childcare and support that ensure that youíve got a little bit of security knowing your family is being looked after back home.

And weíll be there for your when you come home.  Itís why weíre improving care for our wounded warriors, especially those with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries.  Weíre moving forward with the Post-9/11 GI Bill so you and your families can pursue your dreams.  And weíve made the biggest increase in the VA budget in 30 years, because weíre going to keep our sacred trust with all those who serve.

Youíve been there for us, tour after tour, year after year, at a time when too many American institutions have let us down, when too many institutions have put short-term gain in front of a commitment to duty and a commitment to whatís right.  Youíve met your responsibilities, youíve done your duty -- not just when itís easy.  Thatís why youíve inspired your fellow Americans.  Thatís why you inspire me.  Thatís why youíve earned your place next to the very greatest of American generations.

And all of you represent the virtues and the values that America so desperately needs right now:  sacrifice and selflessness, honor and decency.  Thatís why youíre here today.  Thatís what you represent.

Iíve seen your sense of purpose and your willingness to step forward and serve in a time of danger.  Iíve seen it from the Marines Iíve met at Camp Lejeune to the cadets at West Point, from the midshipmen at Annapolis to the troops Iíve met in Iraq, and at bases across America and here in Afghanistan.  Iíve seen your courage and your heroism and the story of a young Sergeant First Class named Jared Monti who gave his life here in Afghanistan to save his fellow soldiers and his parents.  I was proud to present with our nationís highest military declaration, the Medal of Honor.  Iíve seen your tenacity -- Iíve seen your tenacity and determination in our wounded warriors in Landstuhl and Walter Reed -- Americans fighting to stand again and to walk again and to get back with -- get back with their units; incredible dedication, incredible focus, incredible pride.  And Iíve been humbled by your sacrifice and the solemn homecoming of flag-draped coffins at Dover, to the headstones in Section 60 at Arlington where the fallen from this war rest in peace alongside the fellow heroes of Americaís story.

So here in Afghanistan each one of you is part of an unbroken line of American service members whoíve sacrificed for over two centuries.  Youíre protecting your fellow citizens from danger.  Youíre serving alongside old allies and new friends.  Youíre bringing hope and opportunity to a people who have known a lot of pain and a lot of suffering.

And I know that sometimes when youíre watching TV, the politics back home may look a little messy, and people are yelling and hollering, and Democrats this and Republicans that.  I want you to understand this:  Thereís no daylight when it comes to support of all of you.  Thereís no daylight when it comes to supporting our troops.  That brings us together.  We are all incredibly proud.  We all honor what you do.  And all of you show all of America whatís possible when people come together, not based on color or creed, not based on faith or station, but based on a commitment to serve together, to bleed together and to succeed together as one people, as Americans.

Make no mistake, this fight matters to us.  It matters to us, it matters to our allies, it matters to the Afghan people.  Al Qaeda and the violent extremists who youíre fighting against want to destroy.  But all of you want to build -- and that is something essential about America.  Theyíve got no respect for human life.  You see dignity in every human being.  Thatís part of what we value as Americans.  They want to drive races and regions and religions apart.  You want to bring people together and see the world move forward together.  They offer fear, in other words, and you offer hope.

And thatís why it is so important that you know that the entire country stands behind you.  Thatís why you put on that uniform, because in an uncertain world, the United States of America will always stand up for the security of nations and the dignity of human beings.  Thatís who we are.  That is what we do.

Much has happened to our country and to the world since 9/11.  But Iím confident that so long as brave men and women like you -- Americans who are willing to serve selflessly half a world away on behalf of their fellow citizens and the dreams of people theyíve never met -- so long as there are folks like you, then Iím confident that our nation will endure, and hope will overcome fear.  And I am confident that better days lie ahead.

So thank you very much, everybody.  God bless you.  God bless the United States Armed Forces.  And God bless the United States of America.

Book/CDs by Michael E. Eidenmuller, Published by McGraw-Hill (2008)

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