Thanks a lot. Thank you. Well, I am delighted to have this chance to come by and thank you in person for what you’re all doing. I’m very grateful to the leadership that both General McChrystal and General Rodriguez are giving to NATO-ISAF and to our American team. But I know that the work that’s done every single day is done by all of you in every aspect of this mission. I know we’ve got some of our allied partners here, and I want to thank all of them for representing their countries and being part of this extraordinary international effort.
I just want to make three quick points. First, we are here for a purpose, and this is a mission that is important to the United States and to those who have joined us in it. It’s a mission that partners with the people and Government of Afghanistan against a common enemy that poses a threat not only to people here, but people back at home, wherever you may be from. And that’s why I really express on behalf of certainly our country – President Obama and our Administration and the American people – our gratitude for your willingness to serve.
Secondly, we have to do everything we can to create the capacity of the Afghan Government and the Afghan people to protect themselves. And I was very pleased to hear today when President Karzai said that he hopes that within three years, the Afghan security forces will have the lead in important areas, and within five years – which is an ambitious goal, but he stated it – the Afghan security forces would have the lead throughout the country.
Now, there would probably be the necessity for continuing partnering, advising, training, but to take the lead and to take the fight to the enemy is what he said he wanted to see happen. And the only way that could happen is by the work that you do – the training, the mentoring, the support that you give to your Afghan counterparts. And we’re going to be giving you the kind of encouragement that you need to be able to help deliver on this goal that President Karzai set for Afghanistan.
Thirdly, I know that serving here is challenging. There are a lot of sacrifices, most particularly not being able to see your family and friends for long periods of time, and that many of you have been here not just once, but twice, three times, and I met somebody today who is on his fourth tour. So I really appreciate your willingness to serve, but I also know that for everybody who serves, there’s a family that serves as well, that’s trying to take care of everything and hold it together back wherever home is. And I hope if you email or you call or you write, you’ll let them know that I’m grateful for their service as well. Because we couldn’t have, in the United States, the superb, all-volunteer service we have if it wasn’t a family commitment. Parents, spouses, kids, everybody knows that when you sign up, there’s no predictability about where you’re going to be and how often they’re going to get to see you. And I guess as a mom, I’d say be sure you write home and email and all of that. (Laughter.)
But finally, especially for our Americans, we have our national holiday coming up next week. I spent Thanksgiving of 2003 in Afghanistan and I’ve never eaten so much in my life. (Laughter.) I had one meal in Kabul and another meal in Bagram and I had a third meal at Kandahar. So I have no worries that you’re not going to be well-fed come next Thursday. But I do know that that is a special time in a lot of people’s lives and particularly in a lot of people’s families, so it kind of maybe exacerbates a little bit the missing of those rituals and that kind of camaraderie and family time, from the football games that you watch on the couch instead of staying up late to see them.
But I want to especially wish you a Happy Thanksgiving. Now there are a lot of things that I’m grateful for and that the American people are grateful for, and at the top of my list is all of you. I’ve had the great privilege of working with, meeting, supporting our troops for a long time. And I served for six years on the Senate Armed Services Committee and got a firsthand view of a lot of the challenges, but also the extraordinary sense of meeting and purpose that your service provides.
So let me thank you again and let me wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving, and God bless you and God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)
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