FORT BLISS, Texas — President Barack Obama told U.S. troops today that the end of combat operations in Iraq is "not going to be a victory lap," not a cause for celebration.
"There's still a lot of work that we've got to do to make sure that Iraq is an effective partner with us," he said just hours before addressing the nation on the end of the U.S. combat role in Iraq.
Obama spoke with troops at a dining hall on the Fort Bliss Army base in El Paso. The base has been central to the war effort. The soldiers were among those combat troops recently returned from Iraq.
"Welcome home," Obama said to shouts of "hooh-uh."
Obama flew to the base to thank the troops for their sacrifice in the long and unpopular war, one he had opposed.
"Congratulations on a job well done. The country appreciates you," Obama said.
"Iraq has an opportunity to create a better future for itself and the U.S. is more secure" because of that mission, Obama said.
Of his upcoming speech, Obama said, "It's not going to be a victory lap. It's not going to be self-congratulatory."
Obama noted that there remained "a tough fight ahead in Afghanistan...a tough slog."
Following his remarks, Obama shook hands with each of the soldiers and family members gathered in the base dining hall, asking where they or their loved ones had served.
As he exited the room, Obama said, "Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share this time with you and see all of you face to face. Just know that we're all thinking about you and all praying for your families."
To those who will face future missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama said, "We will be relentless in making sure you have what you need to come home safely."