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Obama on Christmas: ‘World is better, safer’

While Obama admits ‘we have some very difficult missions around the world,’ he says it is ‘safer’ after marking end of Afghan combat

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On Christmas day, U.S. President Barack Obama described the world we live in as “better and safer” after marking more than one decade of combat in Afghanistan, the Associated Press reported.

At an oceanfront Marine Corps base in Hawaii, Obama told troops that while tough challenges remain for the U.S. military in hotspots like Iraq and West Africa, the world as a whole is better off because American troops put country first and served with distinction. He said Americans and their president could not be more thankful.

“We still have some very difficult missions around the world - including in Iraq,” Obama said.

But, he added, “the world is better, it’s safer, it’s more peaceful, it’s more prosperous and our homeland protected because of you.”

“Because of the extraordinary service of the men and women in the American armed forces, Afghanistan has a chance to rebuild its own country,” Obama said to applause from Marines and their families. “We are safer. It’s not going to be a source of terrorist attacks again.”

Challenges remain in Afghanistan

Although there are reasons for cautious optimism, including a new Afghan president whose seriousness of effort has inspired U.S. confidence, the broader picture still looks glim.

Civilian casualties this year are on track to hit 10,000, and some 5,000 Afghan forces were also killed in 2014, a figure that has escalated as the country took on a greater role in its own security.

Insurgents have seized territory across the country, raising fears that ISIS will successfully exploit the security vacuum formed as the U.S. pulls out.

Roughly 2,200 U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan over the last 13 years in a war that cost the U.S. $1 trillion, plus another $100 billion for reconstruction.

The vast majority of American and NATO combat troops will withdraw from Afghanistan on Dec. 31, leaving local forces to battle increasingly bold Islamic militants seeking to take advantage of the potential security vacuum.

From a peak 140,000 troops in 2010, the U.S. and NATO plan to leave just 13,500 behind for training and battlefield support.

McCain in Kabul on Christmas day

Meanwhile, U.S. senator John McCain is in Kabul for Christmas day.

The former presidential candidate met with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani and his chief executive officer Abdullah Abdullah in separate meetings during his visit on Thursday.

Ghani praised the sacrifices of the U.S. troops during their 13 years in Afghanistan, while McCain emphasized America’s long-term support for the country, according to a statement released by the presidency.