FORT BLISS, Texas, Aug. 31 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama Friday marked the second anniversary of the end of the U.S. combat mission in Iraq, saying the fight in Afghanistan is a tough one.
Under a broiling Texas sun, Obama arrived at Fort Bliss, addressing about 5,000 soldiers and military brass in a hangar and having a roundtable discussion with several service members.
Before arriving at Fort Bliss, Obama signed an executive order providing better access to mental health services for military members, veterans and their families. He also renewed his call to Congress to pass the Veterans Jobs Corps bill to "put more vets to work protecting and rebuilding America, extend tax credits to businesses that hire our veterans, and I say to every company in America, if you want somebody who knows how to get the job done, if you want somebody who is going to make you proud, just like they made America proud, then hire a vet."
Obama pledged never to hesitate "to use force to defend the United States of America or our interests. At the same time, I will only send you into harm's way when it is absolutely necessary.
"And when we do, we will give you the equipment and the clear mission and the smart strategy and the support back home that you need to get the job done. We owe you that."
Obama noted nearly 4,500 U.S. troops were killed in Iraq.
"When I was here two years ago I told you something else, though, that we had more work to do, including taking the fight to al-Qaida. And there, too, I meant what I said. With allies and partners, we've taken out more top al-Qaida terrorists than at any time since 9/11. And thanks to the courage of our forces, al-Qaida is on the road to defeat and [Osama] bin Laden will never again threaten the United States of America," he said.
"Two years ago, I also told you that we'd keep up the fight in Afghanistan. ... I've got to tell you truth, this is still a very tough fight."
Obama noted the military is being downsized but said that will not diminish U.S. military superiority. He said he is confident Congress will act to prevent the draconian cuts in military spending mandated by last year's budget agreement.
"There's no reason those cuts should happen because folks in Congress ought to come together and agree on a responsible plan that reduces the deficit and keeps our military strong," he said.