WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama declared Monday that the United States has reached "a pivotal moment" in Afghanistan with the end of war approaching.
Obama, who returned just hours earlier from a surprise visit with U.S. troops at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan, paid tribute to those lost in battle there and elsewhere over history.
"Early this morning, I returned from Afghanistan," Obama told the audience of several thousand people at Arlington National Cemetery outside Washington. "Yesterday, I visited with some of our men and women serving there — 7,000 miles from home. For more than 12 years, men and women like those I met with have borne the burden of our nation's security. Now, because of their profound sacrifice, because of the progress they have made, we're at a pivotal moment."
"Our troops are coming home. By the end of this year, our war in Afghanistan will finally come to end," the president said to applause. "And yesterday at Bagram, and here today at Arlington, we pay tribute to the nearly 2,200 American patriots who've made the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan. We will honour them, always."
The president made a fleeting reference to a widening scandal involving reports of poor performance by the Department of Veterans Affairs, which is facing allegations of delayed health care treatments, and even deaths in Arizona.
"As we've been reminded in recent days — we must do more to keep faith with our veterans and their families, and ensure they get the care and benefits and opportunities that they've earned and that they deserve," said the president.
"These Americans have done their duty," Obama said. "They ask nothing more than that our country does ours — now and for decades to come," he added.
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, a retired Army general, was among those attending the ceremony. Lawmakers from both parties have pressed for policy changes and better management at the department.
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