"Last year, we removed 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan," Obama said in the pre-dawn hours in Afghanistan during the prime-time address to the U.S. television audience. "Another 23,000 will leave by the end of the summer. After that, reductions will continue at a steady pace, with more of our troops coming home. And as our coalition agreed, by the end of 2014 the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country.
"My fellow Americans, we have traveled through more than a decade under the dark cloud of war. Yet here, in the pre-dawn darkness of Afghanistan, we can see the light of a new day on the horizon. The Iraq war is over. The number of our troops in harm's way has been cut in half, and more will be coming home soon. We have a clear path to fulfill our mission in Afghanistan, while delivering justice to al-Qaida.
"As we emerge from a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home, it is time to renew America. An America where our children live free from fear, and have the skills to claim their dreams. A united America of grit and resilience, where sunlight glistens off soaring new towers in downtown Manhattan, and we build our future as one people, as one nation. … This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end."
Obama earlier told U.S. troops in Afghanistan the "battle's not yet over" but "there's a light on the horizon" because of their sacrifices.
Speaking to an estimated 3,200 service members at Bagram Air Base in Kabul, Obama said: "We're not going to do it overnight. We're not going to do it irresponsibly. We're going to make sure that the gains, the hard-fought gains, that have been made are preserved but the reason we are able to do that is because of you. …
"We did not choose this war, this war came to us on 9/11. … We don't go looking for a fight but when we see our homeland violated, when we see our fellow citizens killed, then we understand what we have to do, and because of the sacrifices now of a decade -- a new greatest generation -- not only were we able to blunt the Taliban's momentum, not only were we able to drive al-Qaida out of Afghanistan, but slowly and systematically we have been able to decimate the ranks of al-Qaida, and a year ago we were finally able to bring Osama bin Laden to Justice," Obama said to loud cheers from the military.
Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai earlier signed a strategic pact in Kabul pledging U.S. assistance to Afghanistan through 2024.
Obama called the strategic partnership agreement, signed just after midnight, "a historic moment for our two nations."
"I'm here to affirm the bond between our two countries and to thank Americans and Afghans who have sacrificed so much over these last 10 years," Obama said with U.S. Sens. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Jack Reed, D-R.I., in attendance.
Levin is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and Reed is a member of the committee.
"Neither Americans nor the Afghan people asked for this war, yet for a decade we've stood together. Today with the signing of the strategic partnership agreement we look forward to a future of peace," Obama said. "Today we're agreeing to be long-term partners.
"With this agreement the Afghan people and the world should know that Afghanistan has a partner in the United States. … As we move forward I'm confident Afghan forces will grow stronger and the Afghan people will take control of their future."
"President Obama has signed a strategic agreement no one has read that apparently pledges another decade of U.S. involvement on terms that are not known," David Cortright, director of policy studies at the University of Notre Dame's Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, said in a release. "He should announce instead an end to combat operations, the withdrawal of all U.S. troops, a major U.N.-led peace mission, and continued support for social and economic development."
The agreement comes on the heels of the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Navy SEALs raid in Pakistan that killed terrorist mastermind and al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden -- a milestone the Obama campaign is using as a major building block in his re-election campaign, questioning whether likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would have had the "honor" to make the assassination call. Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has said "even [former U.S. President] Jimmy Carter" would have made the call to kill the terrorist leader, and GOP operatives accuse the White House of politicizing the assassination.
"I hardly think you've seen any excessive celebration taking place here," Obama said Monday at a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda. "I think the American people remember rightly what we as country accomplished in bringing to justice someone who killed 3,000 of our citizens."
Obama said he would "just recommend that everyone take a look at people's previous statements," alluding to Romney's assertion during the 2008 presidential campaign that it was not worth "moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person."
"I assume that people meant what they said when they said it," Obama said. "That's at least been my practice. I said I'd go after bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him ... and I did. If there are others who said one thing and now said they'd do something else, I'd let them explain it."
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