WASHINGTON (WNEW) — President Barack Obama landed at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan to surprise U.S. troops with a visit on the eve of Memorial Day.
A rally of roughly 32,000 Americans currently serving in Afghanistan were treated to a concert from country music star Brad Paisley before Obama spoke to troops.
The president thanked the service men and women for all of their hard work overseas protecting the country.
“To all of you, I’m here on a single mission and that is to thank you for your extraordinary service,” Obama said to cheers from the audience. ““I’m here to say thank you and I’m here to say how proud I am of you. And I’m here to say how proud I am of your families because in some ways in ways large and small their sacrificing just like you are.”
Obama began to remind them how the beginning of America’s longest-running war began. He stated that the U.S. is at a crucial moment in its mission in Afghanistan and that U.S. forces are supporting Afghan security forces. But he explained that at the end of the year, that the U.S. combat mission will finally end.
“For many of you, this will be your last tour in Afghanistan,” Obama said to the troops. ““America’s war in Afghanistan will come to a responsible end. Even with all the challenges, more Afghans have hope for their future and that is because of you.”
He also explained that he was hopeful a new president in Afghanistan would lead to a signed security agreement which would leave just a small number of U.S. troops in the country after 2014.
“I thought it was important for me to check in directly with folks face to face before those decisions were finally made,” he said.
However, he didn’t announce how exactly he plans to handle the next transition phase in the post-2014 Afghanistan during the remarks with the troops. He did share with reporters that he will announce his decision “shortly,” CBS News reported.
Obama brought the story full circle by speaking about his visit to the new Sept. 11 memorial in New York City.
“We resolved to never forget and do everything in our power to prevent this from happening again,” he stated. “This is why you are here.”
“Everybody who has served here and all the members of our coalition can be proud because you are completing the mission,” the president said. “You’ve helped prevent attacks and saved American lives back home. Al Qaeda is on its heels in that part of the world and that’s because of you.”
The president secretly left the White House Saturday evening to spend time with the service men and women in Afghanistan. He is also expected to get an on-site briefing from his military commanders and visit with wounded service members.
Obama has no plans to go to the capital city Kabul to meet with the country’s current president Hamid Karzai.
This is Obama’s fourth visit to Afghanistan as president.