PHOENIX -- President Obama says U.S. troops in Afghanistan are working to secure polling places so this week's elections can go forward and Afghans can decide their future.
Obama told the Veterans of Foreign Wars on Monday that the United States didn't choose to fight in Afghanistan but was forced to invade that country to stop future Sept. 11-type attacks at home. Obama says his new strategy recognizes that al-Qaeda has moved its bases into remote areas of Pakistan and that military power alone will not win that war.
Obama says it's important to note that the insurgency in Afghanistan didn't happen overnight and would not be defeated overnight. Obama warned Americans that the battle there will be neither quick nor easy.
"Members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, I am honored and humbled to stand before you as commander in chief of the finest military the world has ever known," the president said. "And we're joined by some of those who make it the finest force in the world — from Luke Air Force Base, members of the 56th Fighter Wing."
The president discussed the dual wars the military is waging:
"By moving forward in Iraq, we're able to refocus on the war against al-Qaeda and its extremist allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That is why I announced a new, comprehensive strategy in March. This strategy recognizes that al-Qaeda and its allies had moved their base to the remote, tribal areas of Pakistan. This strategy acknowledges that military power alone will not win this war, that we also need diplomacy and development and good governance. And our new strategy has a clear mission and defined goals — to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda and its extremist allies.
"In the months since, we've begun to put this comprehensive strategy into action. And in recent weeks, we've seen our troops do their part. They have gone into new areas — taking the fight to the Taliban in villages and towns where residents have been terrorized for years. They're adopting new tactics, knowing that it's not enough to kill extremists and terrorists; we also need to protect the Afghan people and improve their daily lives. And today, our troops are helping to secure polling places for this week's election, so Afghans can choose the future they want.
"These new efforts have not been without a price. The fighting has been fierce. More Americans have given their lives. And as always, the thoughts and prayers of every American are with those who make the ultimate sacrifice in our defense."
As for the way forward, Obama pledged to reform the procurement process so troops have the best equipment possible at the best cost to taxpayers.
In praising congressional efforts to rein in unnecessary Pentagon spending, Obama gave recognition to one of Arizona's favorite sons: Sen. John McCain, the man Obama defeated in last year's presidential election.
Contributing: John Faherty of The Arizona Republic, David Jackson in Washington and the Associated Press