(KABUL, Afghanistan) — In a dramatic, live address to the American people from inside Afghanistan, President Obama on Tuesday hailed a new milestone in his effort to end the nearly 11-year Afghan war. He also marked the anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader who triggered it.
“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,” Obama said.
“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 Qaeda.”
“This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end,” Obama said later.
The live address from Bagram Air Field, a U.S. military base outside of Kabul, comes on the one-year anniversary of the successful Navy SEALs mission into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, who plotted and launched the 9/11 attacks from Afghan soil.
It is believed to be the first time a sitting U.S. president has spoken to the American people from inside an active war zone. Obama flew to Afghanistan on a secret overnight mission aboard Air Force One, landing under the cover of darkness. He is expected to leave before dawn.
“One year ago, from a base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden. The goal that I set — to defeat al Qaeda, and deny it a chance to rebuild — is within reach,” Obama said.
Since bin Laden’s death, 367 American troops have been killed and almost 4,500 wounded in Afghanistan. In the 10 and a half years since America’s longest war began, more than 1,800 service members have lost their lives.
There are roughly 88,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan right now, according to the Pentagon, but a withdrawal of those troops is well underway.
The last of the president’s “surge troops” — 23,000 service members — are expected to withdraw by September, with the remaining U.S. combat forces scheduled to leave by the end of 2014. The transition is made possible, Obama said, by the determination and sacrifices of men and women in uniform.
“Time and again, they have answered the call to serve in distant and dangerous places. In an age when so many institutions have come up short, these Americans stood tall. They met their responsibilities to one another, and the flag they serve under,” he said.
“As Commander-in-Chief, I could not be prouder,” he said. “In their faces, we see what is best in ourselves and our country.”
But while Obama sought to reassure his domestic audience of the war’s end — a key campaign promise — he also tried to assure Afghans and insurgents that the U.S. will not abandon the country after 2014.
Earlier on his visit, Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement that outlines ways the U.S. will remain engaged in Afghanistan’s development and security to prevent the Taliban from re-taking control of the government.
“The agreement we signed today sends a clear message to the Afghan people: as you stand up, you will not stand alone,” Obama said.
The latest ABC News/Washington Post poll found a record-high number — 66 percent — of Americans believe the Afghanistan war has not been worth fighting, matching opposition to the war in Iraq at its peak five years ago.
As for views of Obama’s handling of the war effort, more Americans approve than disapprove of his leadership, 48 to 43 percent.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Chuck Johnston, CNN Newswire
Ray Sanchez, CNN Newswire