WASHINGTON, Aug. 17, 2009 – Terrorists who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, are plotting to do so again, so defeating them is “fundamental to the defense of our people,” President Barack Obama told veterans at the annual Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Phoenix today.

Obama said the U.S. military will be better able to refocus on the war against al-Qaida and its extremist allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan as it moves toward completing the mission in Iraq.

The president cited signs of the new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy introduced in March in action. U.S. troops have gone into new areas to take the fight to the Taliban. They’ve adopted new tactics that include protecting the Afghan people and improving their lives.

Today, he noted, they’re helping secure polling places for the Aug. 20 elections.

These efforts have come at a high cost, he told the veterans, with fierce fighting and heavier U.S. casualties.

“As I said when I announced this strategy, there will be more difficult days ahead,” he said. “The insurgency in Afghanistan didn’t just happen overnight. And we won’t defeat it overnight. This will not be quick. This will not be easy.

“But we must never forget: This is not a war of choice,” the president continued. “This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again.”

If left unchecked, extremists will secure an even larger safe haven for al-Qaida to plot to kill more Americans, Obama said. “So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”

Meanwhile, Obama cited progress made in Iraq. He called the transfer of security control in the cities and town to Iraq’s own security services June 30 a critical step toward completing the U.S. mission there.

“As they take control of their destiny, Iraqis will be tested and targeted,” he said. “Those who seek to sow sectarian division will attempt more senseless bombings, more killings of innocents. This we know.”

But the president reiterated that the United States will live up to its commitment to Iraq, removing all combat brigades by August 2010, and all U.S. troops by December 2011.

“For America, the Iraq war will end,” he told the veterans.

Obama pledged to ensure troops who wage the wars have everything they need to succeed in these operations, and that policies reward them and their families for their sacrifices.

“To all those who have served America — our forces, your families, our veterans — you have done your duty,” Obama told the veterans. “You have fulfilled your responsibilities, and now a grateful nation must fulfill ours.”

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