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Obama hails troops' sacrifice as Afghan milestone nears

Obama pays Christmas Day visit to troops in Hawaii

President Obama vowed Thursday that Afghanistan would not "be a source of terrorist attacks again," crediting America's military for helping make the nation more secure as the U.S. prepares to end its combat mission there.

On a Christmas Day visit with service members at a Hawaii military base, the president thanked troops for their sacrifices during more than a decade of "continuous war."

"We still have some very difficult missions around the world," Obama said, noting the role U.S. forces will continue to play in Iraq and Afghanistan in assisting local security forces, as well as helping to deal with the Ebola outbreak in Africa. "But the world is better, it's safer, it's more peaceful, it's more prosperous and our homeland is protected because of you and the sacrifices [you make] each and every day."

"So on a day when we celebrate the Prince of Peace and many of us count our blessings, one of the greatest blessings we have is the extraordinary dedication and sacrifices you all make. We could not be more thankful. I know I speak for everyone in the entire country when I say, we salute you."

The president's Christmas afternoon trip to Marine Corps Base Hawaii is an annual ritual, but had added significance this year with the coming milestone in the U.S. fight against terrorism. After year's end, the up to 10,800 troops that could remain in Afghanistan will transition from a combat role to a training and assistance role.

The base is on the Mokapu Peninsula on the eastern end of the island of Oahu, a five-minute drive from the Obamas’ vacation rental in nearby Kailua.

Before Christmas Eve dinner on Wednesday, Obama also phoned deployed service members from each branch of the military to thank them for their service. And Vice President Joe Biden, who had been spending the holiday week at home in Delaware, visited patients at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda on Christmas Day.

The first family began their day by opening presents and singing Christmas carols at their vacation residence, according to the White House. Later, they spent more than two hours on the beach at nearby Bellows Air Force Station.

The Obamas arrived in Hawaii late last Friday for their annual year-end visit to the president's birth state. He's due to depart for Washington on Jan. 4, just in time for the start of the new congressional session.

Follow @mikememoli for more updates on President Obama's trip to Hawaii.

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