President Obama spoke to disabled veterans in Atlanta today, and took the opportunity to highlight the progress of troop withdrawals in Iraq which have continued as promised and are on schedule to end all combat objectives in Iraq, though 50,000 troops will remain to continue training Iraqi forces in the region.
Now, one of those chapters is nearing an end. As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end. (Applause.) Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility. And I made it clear that by August 31st, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end. And that is exactly what we are doing -- as promised and on schedule.
Already, we have closed or turned over to Iraq hundreds of bases. We’re moving out millions of pieces of equipment in one of the largest logistics operations that we’ve seen in decades. By the end of this month, we’ll have brought more than 90,000 of our troops home from Iraq since I took office -- more than 90,000 have come home.
He did not ignore Afghanistan, or the raging debate over it:
The effort in Afghanistan has been long and been difficult. And that’s why after years in which the situation had deteriorated, I announced a new strategy last December -- a military effort to break the Taliban’s momentum and train Afghan forces so that they can take the lead for their security; and a civilian effort to promote good governance and development that improves the lives of the Afghan people; and deeper cooperation with Pakistan to root out terrorists on both sides of the border.
We will continue to face huge challenges in Afghanistan. But it’s important that the American people know that we are making progress and we are focused on goals that are clear and achievable.
On the military front, nearly all the additional forces that I ordered to Afghanistan are now in place. Along with our Afghan and international partners, we are going on the offensive against the Taliban -- targeting their leaders, challenging them in regions where they had free reign, and training Afghan national security forces. Our thoughts and prayers are with all our troops risking their lives for our safety in Afghanistan.
And on the civilian front, we’re insisting on greater accountability. And the Afghan government has taken concrete steps to foster development and combat corruption, and to put forward a reintegration plan that allows Afghans to lay down their arms.
He once again articulated the ultimate goal in Afghanistan, too:
We will disrupt, we will dismantle, and we will ultimately defeat al Qaeda.
What most resonated with me wasn't what we're doing over there, but what we're doing here for veterans of these wars who suffer with PTSD, have injuries, disabilities, are homeless, or looking for work:
We’re making progress in ending homelessness among our veterans. (Applause.) Today, on any given night, there are about 20,000 fewer veterans on the streets than there were when we took office. But we’re not going to be satisfied until every veteran who has fought for America has a home in America. We will not stop.
Finally, we’re keeping faith with our newest veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. We’re offering more of the support and counseling they need to transition back to civilian life. That includes funding the post-9/11 GI Bill, which is already helping more than 300,000 veterans and family members pursue their dream of a college education.
And for veterans trying to find work in a very tough economy, we’re helping with job training and placement. And I’ve directed the federal government to make it a priority to hire more veterans, including disabled veterans. And every business in America needs to know our vets have the training, they’ve got the skills, they have the dedication -- they are ready to work. And our country is stronger when we tap the incredible talents of our veterans.
We’re directing unprecedented resources to treating the signature wounds of today’s wars -- traumatic brain injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And I recently signed into law the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act. That’s a long name, but let me tell you what it does. It not only improves treatment for traumatic brain injury and PTSD, it gives new support to many of the caregivers who put their own lives on hold to care for their loved one.
An appeal to PTSD sufferers to reach out and seek help:
And as so many of you know, PTSD is a pain like no other -- the nightmares that keep coming back, the rage that strikes suddenly, the hopelessness that’s led too many of our troops and veterans to take their own lives. So today, I want to say in very personal terms to anyone who is struggling -- don’t suffer in silence. It’s not a sign of weakness to reach out for support -- it’s a sign of strength. Your country needs you. We are here for you. We are here to help you stand tall. Don’t give up. Reach out.
War is a destructive, awful thing. George W. Bush's decision to put forces in Afghanistan, abandon them for Iraq, and never deal with not only the financial cost, but the human cost and burden of war was evil. While the debate rages on about Afghanistan and how to get out, it's worth giving credit where it's due for this Congress and President's attention to the needs of those veterans who served when they were called to do so.