President Obama delivered a live ten-minute address to the American people Tuesday night from Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, in which he emphasized that although the Afghanistan war is winding down, the job is not done yet. "As we emerge from a decade of conflict abroad and economic crisis at home, it's time to renew America," Obama said at 4 a.m. local time, the first time a sitting U.S. president has addressed the nation from inside an active war zone. "This time of war began in Afghanistan, and this is where it will end."
The speech marked the one-year anniversary of Navy SEAL Team 6's raid into Osama bin Laden's Pakistan compound. "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. "Not only were we able to drive al Qaeda out of Afghanistan, but slowly and systematically we have been able to decimate the ranks of al Qaeda, and a year ago we were able to finally to bring Osama bin Laden to justice."
Shortly after arriving unannounced at the military base near Kabul, Obama and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement that memorializes the relationship between the two nations for a ten-year period following the drawdown of combat troops by the end of 2014. At that time, Obama said the U.S. will assume a "support" role and deliver aid to the struggling nation that will become responsible for its own security.
"The agreement we signed today sends a clear message to the Afghan people: as you stand up, you will not stand alone," Obama said. And in a statement after the meeting, Karzai stated, "By signing this document, we close the last 10 years and open a new season of equal relations."
A senior administration official told reporters that the pact will give the U.S. “the capacity to carry out the counterterrorism operations that are necessary for Al Qaeda not to resettle,” and help ensure “a regional equilibrium that serves our national security interest — and that’s ultimately why we went in there in the first place.
Obama's visit to Afghanistan precedes planned campaign rallies in Virginia and Ohio, the first of his reelection campaign. The visit and speech also occurred several hours after Mitt Romney commemorated bin Laden's killing by hosting a pizza party in which he himself delivered pizza to a firehouse, or at least most of the way. Obama suggested earlier that Romney wouldn't have pulled the trigger on the risky raid to kill bin Laden, while Romney's campaign criticized Obama for politicizing the matter.
"I recognize that many Americans are tired of war," Obama said, "But we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan and end this war responsibly."