- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2014

President Obama said Monday that America has reached a “turning point” in deploying troops overseas, with the U.S. combat mission ending in Afghanistan and most troops having returned home from the war on terrorism.

“We’ve now brought home about 90 percent of our troops,” Mr. Obama told troops at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey, adding that the time of deploying large ground forces overseas is “coming to an end.”

“This month, after more than 13 years, our combat mission in Afghanistan will be over,” Mr. Obama said. “We’re at a turning point.”

But Mr. Obama also said despite the end of combat in Afghanistan, the U.S. will “continue to have a limited presence there.”

“There’s still remnants of al Qaeda there,” he said. “After all the sacrifices you’ve made, we want to preserve the gains you’ve made. We want a stable and secure Afghanistan, and we want to ensure that country is never again is used to launch attacks against the United States of America.”

Departing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the U.S. will keep about 1,000 more troops in Afghanistan than planned early next year to fill a temporary NATO troop gap.

The original plan to cut U.S. troop levels to 9,800 by the end of this year has been abandoned, although administration officials deny that a surge in Taliban attacks is the reason. Two U.S. troops were killed over the weekend in a Taliban attack near Bagram airfield, north of the capital of Kabul.

The president also thanked the troops for their efforts fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, saying: “We have blunted their momentum and put them on the defensive.”

“They may think they can chalk up some quick victories, but our reach is long, we do not give up,” Mr. Obama said. “We will get you. This campaign in Iraq will take time. But make no mistake, our coalition isn’t just going to degrade this barbaric terrorist organization, we’re going to destroy it.”

A government watchdog is warning that much of the U.S. expenditure of more than $104 billion for Afghan reconstruction is at risk of being squandered because Afghans cannot sustain the investment on its security forces and other key sectors, and the country is rife with corruption.

The president arrived in New Jersey aboard Air Force One and was greeted by Republican Gov. Chris Christie and other elected officials. Mr. Obama recalled that he visited a shore town with Mr. Christie last year to view the rebuilding efforts to recover from Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“Christie beat me at football toss, which really aggravated me,” the president joked.

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