By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, June 23, 2011 - President Barack Obama assured 10th Mountain Division soldiers today that the drawdown in Afghanistan is not precipitous, and that gains made there will be sustained.
Obama announced last night that 10,000 service members will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of the year, and the remaining 23,000 surge forces will be home by September 2012. He traveled to Fort Drum, N.Y., today to discuss his decision and thank the troops and their families.
"Because of your outstanding work, what we've been able to do is train an additional 100,000 Afghan soldiers so that they can start carrying on the fight," the president told the soldiers. "Because of what you've done, areas like Kandahar are more secure than they have been in years. Because of you, we're now taking the fight to the Taliban, instead of the Taliban bringing the fight to us."
Because of that pressure on the Taliban, there are signs that members may be interested in participating in a political settlement, Obama said, which ultimately is going to be critical for consolidating that country.
"As I look around this room, I suspect that some of you joined the military after 9/11 because you had seen fellow Americans suffer at the hands of [Osama] bin Laden," the president said. "When we got him, and as we keep on driving to get the rest of them, it's because of the work and the sacrifice that you guys have made."
The 10th Mountain Division has lost people throughout its many deployments. Obama said Americans should be aware of the sacrifices service members and their families have made in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"The reason that I know many of you continue to do the outstanding work that you do is not only love of country, but it's also love for each other and your commitment to making sure that those sacrifices were not in vain," he said. "So the main message I have for all of you here today is that the American people understand the sacrifices you're making. They understand the sacrifices that your families are making. Our job is not finished."
Even with the drawdown, Obama said, there still will be 68,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after September 2012. "Frankly, the 10th Mountain Division is still going to be represented there until we have fully transferred to the Afghan military and security forces," he said. "But I hope that all of you can both take pride in what you've done over the past years, but also understand that there's a future there that is brighter, not only for the Afghan people but most importantly, for American security."
The president thanked the soldiers and their families for their dedication and sacrifices. "Nothing gives me more honor than serving as your commander in chief," he said. "And to all of you who are potentially going to be redeployed, just know that your commander in chief has your back."
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