The commander in chief told Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Aug. 7, 2013 that the war in Afghanistan has entered its final chapter.
President Barack Obama thanked the Marines and their families for the burdens they have carried since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
"I'm here because we recently marked another milestone in this war," he said during a speech in a hangar. "As of this past June, for the first time, Afghan forces have taken the lead for security across their entire country. Instead of leading the fight, our troops now have a different mission, which is to train and advise and assist Afghan forces."
This shift in mission signals the beginning of the final chapter in the fight in Afghanistan, Obama said. More troops will be coming home –60,000 Americans are in Afghanistan now, and that number will drop to 34,000 by the winter.
"By the end of next year, in just 17 months, the transition will be complete -- Afghans will take full responsibility for their security, and our war in Afghanistan will be over," the president said.
The president, who met with wounded warriors and Gold Star families before the speech, remembered the 326 fallen heroes from Camp Pendleton. "We honor all of them," he said. "Every single one."
Still, the war is continuing, and the president did not sugarcoat the way forward. "I know some of you are getting ready to deploy in the months to come. It is a hard fight," he said. "Our Afghan partners have stepped up. They are bearing a bigger brunt of the firepower. They are taking on a lot more casualties. They are in the lead. But it is still tough, and we are still needed."
This generation of service members has made progress, the president said, and he listed some of it. "Because of you, Osama bin Laden is no more," he said. "Because of you, al-Qaida's top ranks have been hammered. The core of al-Qaida, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is on the way to defeat."
Because these Marines and thousands of others went to Afghanistan, millions of Afghans have a chance at a normal, peaceful life, the president said. And this will be a lasting accomplishment, he added.
"We are going to make sure that Afghanistan is never again a source of attacks against our country," he said. "That happened because of you."
But the end of the war in Afghanistan does not mean the end of threats to America. Al-Qaida affiliates still threaten American embassies, consulates and interests overseas. "We have got to take these threats seriously, and do all we can to confront them," Obama said. "We have been reminded of this again in recent days."
The president vowed that the United States will never retreat from the world. "We do not get terrorized," he said. "We're going to keep standing up to our enemies."
Obama said that with allies, the United States will remain the greatest force for freedom the world has ever known, and this means a strong military.
With the end of the war, the military will shrink, the president said, but America cannot allow a hollow force to develop.
"We have got – right now – the best-led, best-trained, best-equipped military in human history," he said. "And as long as I am commander in chief, I will keep it that way."
The president called on Congress to work with him to undo the sequester spending cuts and find a way to reduce military spending that doesn't cripple the services at a very dangerous time.