"I wanted to make sure that I could spend a little time this holiday with the men and women of the finest fighting force that the world has ever known," Obama told the more than 3,000 service personnel at the Bagram Air Base. "Let me say that, at this time of year, Americans are giving thanks for all of the blessings that we have, and as we begin this holiday season, there's no place that I would rather be, than be here with you."
He said he recognized the holidays are particularly difficult for military personnel and their families, noting, "Sometimes, during the holiday season, that's when you feel (the) absence of somebody you love most acutely."
The additional 30,000 troops he ordered deployed to Afghanistan are in place, and "thanks to your service, we are making important progress," he said. "You will succeed in your mission."
He spoke of the strategy to "break the Taliban's momentum," telling the troops they were going on offense and pushing insurgents from their strongholds.
"Today, we can be proud that there are fewer areas under Taliban control and more Afghans, have a chance to build a more hopeful future," Obama said.
He said no one in the room needed to be told Afghanistan is a "tough fight."
"I just came from the medical unit and saw our wounded warriors; pinned some (four) purple hearts," he said. "I just talked to the platoon that lost six of their buddies in a senseless act of violence. It's a tough business. ... Progress comes at a high price."
But because of their service, "we look forward to a new phase next year, the beginning of the transition to Afghan responsibility," Obama said.
He said U.S. troops gave him hope and inspiration.
"Your resolve shows that Americans will never succumb to fear," he said. "Your selfless service shows who we are, who we always will be, united as one people, united as one nation, for you embody and stand up for the values that make us what we are as a people."
After his remarks, Obama looped around the hangar three times, shaking hands and chatting with the troops.
Obama also spoke by teleconference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The two leaders were to meet in Kabul, but bad weather forced Obama's trip to the Afghan capital to be canceled.
Obama's unannounced trip comes ahead of the December review of the administration's Afghanistan strategy that calls for U.S. and coalition troops to begin transferring security responsibility to Afghan forces next year, depending on ground conditions. Obama and NATO officials recently agreed that 2014 is the target completion date.