- President’s war address thanked US troops and outlined plans to end combat operations.
- ‘I will not keep Americans in harm’s way a single day longer than is absolutely required for our national security,’ said President Obama.
- ‘But we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan, and end this war responsibly,’ said Mr Obama.
- Approximately 23,000 of the 88,000 US troops stationed in the country are expected to leave Afghanistan by the summer
- ‘It is time to renew America,’ added President Obama in his prime-speech
- Unannounced arrival in Afghanistan comes as SEALs criticise Obama for taking credit for the death of bin Laden and for using it as re-election campaign tool
- Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld takes to Twitter to criticise President Obama’s campaign commercial
By Toby Harnden
PUBLISHED: 16:25 EST, 1 May 2012 | UPDATED: 08:27 EST, 2 May 2012
President Barack Obama last night took his victory lap marking the first anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan, landing in Kabul amid elaborate secrecy to deliver a live televised address.
Speaking in front of a line of military vehicles at Bagram air base, Obama declared: ‘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 now within our reach.’
The President also used his speech to indicate that there would be a U.S. presence in the country until 2024. His previous public position has always been that troops would be out of the country by a 2014.
Insisting that ‘we have a clear path to fulfill our mission in Afghanistan’, he said that Afghans would be responsible for their own security after 2014 but ‘two narrow security missions’ of ‘counterterrorism and continued training’ would still be carried out by Americans troops.
His six-hour visit to Afghanistan under cover of darkness came as Republicans lambasted Obama for politicising the operation to take out the al Qaeda leader and serving and former US Navy SEALs blasted him for using their comrades as ‘ammunition’ in his election campaign against Mitt Romney.
‘We’ve seen recently that President Obama has visited college campuses in an attempt to win back the support of that age group since he has lost it over the last three years,” Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma said in a statement.
‘Similarly, this trip to Afghanistan is an attempt to shore up his national security credentials, because he has spent the past three years gutting our military.’
The Romney campaign, which had been angered by an Obama campaign ad featuring Bill Clinton and questioning whether Romney would have given the order to kill bin Laden, was cautious about taking Obama to task for the Afghan trip because of the tradition of refraining from political attacks when a president is abroad.
White House aides said that the visit was to sign a strategic partnership agreement with Afghanistan meant to mark the beginning of the end of a war that has lasted for more than a decade.
But the political nature of the trip was obvious.
The situation in Afghanistan was judged to be so dangerous that Obama was not permitted to be on the ground in daylight.
Air Force One landed at the Bagram base just north of Kabul and Obama was then flown by helicopter to President Hamid Karzai’s palace in the Afghan capital where the two leaders signed the partnership pact.
Obama then met troops before delivering a speech aimed almost exclusively at the American domestic audience.
To some degree, Obama was insulated from the charge of playing petty politics by the fact that his trip took place on the ninth anniversary of President George W. Bush’s notorious ‘mission accomplished’ event on board to USS Abraham Lincoln after the Iraq invasion in 2003.
Before Obama landed, Republicans had heaped criticism on Obama. Michael Mukasey, attorney general under Bush, slammed Obama for his “plans during the coming campaign to exploit the bragging rights to the achievement” in an article in the Wall Street Journal.
Mukasey quoted a declassified memorandum by Leon Panetta, the Pentagon chief, that he argued included a “responsibility-escape clause” that meant if the operation had failed then blame could have been placed on then Vice Admiral William McRaven, head of Joint Special Operations Command (JSCO) at the time.
The memo said: ‘The timing, operational decision making and control are in Admiral McRaven’s hands.
The approval is provided on the risk profile presented to the President. Any additional risks are to be brought back to the President for his consideration. The direction is to go in and get bin Laden and if he is not there, to get out.’
Mukasey highlghted ‘the way [Obama] emphasised his own role in the hazardous mission accomplished by SEAL Team 6’ and contrasted with Bush’s praise of American troops when Saddam Hussein was captured in 2003.
Donald Rumseld, Bush’s Pentagon chief from 2001 to 2006, said via twitter that the professionalism of the SEALs over the bin Laden raid was in contrast to Obama’s approach: ‘The special operators who have every right to “spike the football” are too professional to do so. The White House might follow their lead.’
Jose Rodriguez, a former head of the CIA’s Clandestine Service, wrote in the ‘Washington Post’ that Obama had made the right decision to order the killing of bin Laden.
‘But his administration never would have had the opportunity to do the right thing had it not been for some extraordinary work during the George W. Bush administration.
Much of that work has been denigrated by Obama as unproductive and contrary to American principles.’
He said that although some were ‘trying to turn bin Laden’s death into a campaign talking point for Obama’s reelection” it should be remembered ‘that the trail to bin Laden started in a CIA black site - all of which Obama ordered closed’ and ‘stemmed from information obtained from hardened terrorists’ partly by harsh interrogation methods Obama had since banned.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2138104/President-Obama-address-U-S-Afghanistan-year-death-bin-Laden–SEALs-slam-taking-credit-killing.html#ixzz1tQhh3jXx