BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (AP) -- On a swift, secretive trip to the war zone, President Barack Obama declared Tuesday night that after years of sacrifice the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan is winding down just as it has already ended in Iraq. "We can see the light of a new day on the horizon," he said on the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death.
"Our goal is to destroy al-Qaida, and we are on a path to do exactly that," Obama said in an unusual speech to America broadcast from an air base halfway around the world.
He spoke after signing an agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai setting post-war promises and expectations. With two armored troop carriers as a backdrop, Obama made his remarks in the midst of his endeavor to win re-election as U.S. president and commander in chief.
The president landed in Bagram in darkness, and his helicopter roared to Kabul for the meeting with Karzai, under close guard, with only the outlines of the nearby mountains visible. Later, back at the base, he was surrounded by U.S. troops, shaking every hand. He ended his lightning visit with the speech delivered straight to the television camera -- and the voters he was trying to reach back home.
"This time of war began in Afghanistan," he said. "With faith in each other, and our eyes fixed on the future, let us finish the work at hand and forge a just and lasting peace."
Earlier, he delivered a similarly upbeat message to the troops. Noting their sacrifice, he said, "There's a light on the horizon."
It was Obama's fourth trip to Afghanistan, his third as commander in chief. He was about seven hours on the ground in all. He also visited troops at a hospital at the Bagram base, awarding 10 Purple Hearts.
The written agreement that he and Karzai signed is to cover the decade after the planned final withdrawal of U.S. combat troops in 2014. Obama said American forces will be involved in counter-terrorism and training of the Afghan military. "But we will not build permanent bases in this country, nor will we be patrolling its cities and mountains."
In his speech to the nation, Obama said, "I recognize many Americans are tired of war."
He said that last year, "we removed 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan. Another 23,000 will leave by the end of the summer. After that, reductions will continue at a steady pace, with more of our troops coming home. And as our coalition agreed, by the end of 2014 the Afghans will be fully responsible for the security of their country."