THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, General Quintas. To General Nicholson, Ambassador Bass, to all the members of the United States Armed Forces, our allies, and partners, it is my great honor to join you here at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan with the men and women of Resolute Support. (Applause.)
It is humbling for me to address this force for freedom in this ancient land. And to each and every one of you, I bring greetings from your Commander-in-Chief, the 45th President of the United States of America, President Donald Trump. (Applause.)
Before I left the Oval Office yesterday, I asked the President if he had a message for our troops here in Afghanistan. And he looked at me without hesitation from behind the Resolute Desk, and he said, tell them I love them.
And during this special season, I know that President Trump was speaking for every American.
The Old Book says that if you owe debts, pay debts; if honor, then honor; if respect, then respect. And I’m here on behalf of your Commander-in-Chief and all of the American people to pay a debt of honor and respect and gratitude to each and every one of you for your service and your sacrifice. Give yourselves a round of applause. We couldn’t be more proud of every one of you. (Applause.)
I know it must be hard to be so far from home, away from your families and friends, especially this time of year. So in this season, I just want you all to know that you’re on the hearts of the American people. In gatherings large and small all across this country, in communities from which you come, I know there will be a place saved at the dinner table for every one of you. And I also want you to know that millions of Americans will breathe a prayer of thanks for your service and for your safety as you stand for our freedom in this distant land.
But whether you wear the uniform, or you’re here as a civilian, each one of you have stood up and stepped forward to defend our nation, our people, and our very way of life. And your leadership and your service speak louder than any words I could say here tonight. You’re patriots. You are heroes. You did not, as that Old Book says, love your lives so much as to shrink from this calling to serve and defend our nation.
And while you come from the rest of us, you are the best of us. Every day you prove a truth of history anew: The Armed Forces of the United States are the world’s greatest force for good, and you are a part of those armed forces here in Afghanistan.
It’s because of all of you that we’re safe. It’s because of you that we’re free. It’s because of you that freedom has a future in Afghanistan and America and all across the wider world. And today, let me assure you, President Donald Trump is the best friend the Armed Forces of the United States will ever have. (Applause.)
From the first day of our administration the President has fought tirelessly to make this strongest fighting force in the history of the world stronger still.
Earlier this year, the President signed the largest increase in military spending in nearly 10 years. And just last week, President Trump signed one of the largest investments in our national defense since the days of Ronald Reagan, including the largest pay increase for military members in eight years. (Applause.)
And in case you didn’t hear about it from back home, yesterday we cut your taxes. (Applause.) In fact, the average American family, including yours, will see a tax cut of more than $2,000 in the coming year, because of the action the President and Congress took yesterday.
And I want to make you a promise, under President Donald Trump we’re rebuilding the military; we’re restoring the arsenal of democracy; and we are once again, giving our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard the resources and training you need to accomplish your mission and come home safe. That’s our pledge to each and every one of you. (Applause.)
And never doubt that your mission — your mission here in Afghanistan is vital to the safety and security of the American people. Sixteen years ago, the forces of radical Islamic terror plotted and perpetrated the deadliest attack on Americans’ homeland in the history of our nation. From the safe haven of Afghanistan, the terrorists of al Qaeda — aided and abetted by the Taliban — struck the United States on September 11, 2001. We all remember the day — a day where we saw 2,977 innocent men and women, mothers and fathers, sons and daughter lose their lives.
The American people understood this for what it was; it was an act of war. And as one nation and one people, we vowed to win this war on our terms, on this soil. And together with our allies, we came here to Afghanistan to liberate its people and prevent the terrorist from every threatening our homeland again. And we are staying in that fight and we will see it through to the end. (Applause.)
This very base, Bagram Airfield, has been at the heart of our campaign from the very beginning. It’s a bastion of strength and a beacon of freedom in this corner of the world. And as President Trump has said, “It’s thanks to you, and those who stood on this ground before you,” that, in his words, “the horrors on the scale of September 11th have not been repeated on our shores.”
Let me assure you, you inspire the world with your courage and your unconquerable spirit. You’ve crushed the enemy in the field and continue to do so. You’ve driven them into hiding and struck fear into their hearts. You’ve given the Afghan people the hope of freedom; the freedom to determine their own destiny and chart their own future. But as we all know well, these great achievements have come at a great cost. More than 3,500 members of our allied forces have lost their lives over the past 16 years, including 2,308 Americans.
The Old book says, “No greater love is a man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends.” Today and every day, we honor the memory of our fallen and let their families know that we will never forget their service or sacrifice in Afghanistan. (Applause.)
But as President Trump has said, we also honor the fallen by achieving, in his words, “an enduring outcome, worthy of their tremendous sacrifice.” Earlier this year, President Trump laid out a bold new strategy to achieve victory in Afghanistan, and you are the instruments of that strategy. You’re the instruments of American power, who are implementing that strategy on the ground.
It begins by giving our men and women in uniform, as the President said, “the tools you need and the trust you’ve earned to fight and win.” And we are doing just that. (Applause.)
First, your Commander-in-Chief has made it clear to our allies, our partners, and our enemies that the United States of America will no longer be bound by arbitrary timetables in Afghanistan. (Applause.)
As the President has said, America’s enemies must never know our plans. They must never believe they can wait us out. Instead, our decisions will be based on an objective assessment of conditions on the ground. Reality and facts and a relentless pursuit of victory will guide us and nothing else. (Applause.)
Second, President Trump has unleashed the full range of American military might. We’ve lifted the restrictions that limited the effectiveness of our armed forces, so you can, as the President has said, fully and swiftly wage battle against the enemy.
We’ve given you new authorities to directly target the terrorists and militants no matter where they hide. And this Commander-in-Chief has empowered our battlefield commanders with the freedom and flexibility you need to win. Bureaucrats don’t win battles — soldiers do. And under this President, we will never allow bureaucracy to stand in the way of victory. (Applause.)
President Trump and I are proud to see that this new strategy is already bearing fruit all across Afghanistan. And the American people deserve to know that with the courage of everyone gathered here, we’re making real progress in this fight for freedom in Afghanistan. We’ve dramatically increased American air strikes. And together with our Afghan partners, we’ve put the Taliban on the defensive. We’ve prevented them from launching a major campaign against a provincial capital for the first time in three years. We’ve targeted the Taliban’s funding as never before through renewed attacks on its drug trafficking networks.
And thanks to the leadership of your Commander-in-Chief and the courage of all of you, in another field of battle, ISIS is on the run. Their capital has fallen, their so-called caliphate has crumbled from Iraq to Afghanistan and everywhere in between. (Applause.)
And all across this country we’ve won new victories against the terrorists, no matter what they call themselves or where they try to hide. And our enemies will have no time to recover or rebuild because we will continue to bring overwhelming force to defeat them every day, every time.
The road before you is promising, but it’s perilous. And this Commander-in-Chief is clear-eyed about the threats you face and the challenges that lie ahead. But today, let me assure you: President Trump has your back. (Applause.)
And this President will always be unwavering in his commitment to give you the tools you need to fight and win. Thanks to our new strategy, our allies have stepped up as never before. This very gathering is proof. Resolute Support has already brought together the United States with 38 other countries from NATO, across the wider world. They’re sending their best and their bravest to this coalition. Today you stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them in defense of freedom.
And under President Trump, we’ll continue to forge an ever-closer amount of cooperation with our allies and our partners. And we will never ignore the dangers you face, even when they emerge from beyond the borders of Afghanistan.
For too long Pakistan has provided safe haven to the Taliban and many terrorist organizations, but those days are over. (Applause.) President Trump has put Pakistan on notice. As the President said, so I say now: Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with the United States, and Pakistan has much to lose by continuing to harbor criminals and terrorists.
Beyond the battlefield, this Commander-in-Chief has ordered the integration of every facet of American power, as well — diplomatic and economic measures — to achieve a just and lasting peace here in Afghanistan. And until that day comes, you can be assured, we will be relentless in our campaign to destroy our enemies. Because as history attests, weakness arouses evil, and peace only comes through strength. So be strong and courageous, and do the work of freedom. (Applause.)
The Afghan people are a proud and noble people who have suffered long — in the 1980s, during their long war with the former Soviet Union; in the 1990s, under the brutal rule of the Taliban; and in recent years, from the terrorists and militants who continue to threaten their homes and their families, and who have claimed the lives of more than 35,000 brave Afghan soldiers, security forces, along with countless civilians.
But through all the strife, through all their struggle, the Afghan people — those you serve alongside in their armed forces today — have never lost their love of freedom, never lost their courage or their yearning to live in a land free of terror and war. And let the people of Afghanistan know: The United States of America stands with them. (Applause.)
I just came from a meeting with President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah. We discussed the progress that we’ve made in this country and America’s commitment to the Afghan government and the commitment of the Afghanis to their own freedom in this land. I said to them what I say to you now: Under President Donald Trump, the Armed Forces of the United States will remain engaged in Afghanistan until we eliminate the terrorist threat to our homeland, our people once and for all. (Applause.)
It really is humbling for me to stand before you today. My father was a combat veteran, served in Korea. And I’m the proud father of a United States Marine. But my life never took me into the uniform of the United States. But every time I’m with men and women of our armed forces, I’m inspired. I’m inspired by your courage, by your selflessness, by your love of country and your patriotism.
You stand here on a frontier of freedom. You stand tall and proud in defense of our families, our citizens, and our most cherished values. Your mission is vital.
And today, on behalf of your Commander-in-Chief, I say to all of you: In the days ahead, mind your mission, take care of one another, respect the unified chain of command, and never doubt that every day, every operation, and every decision that you make matters to the United States of America more than you may ever know.
Many people live their entire lives wondering if they’ve made a difference. But you won’t have that problem. Everyone standing before me today and around me today, stepped forward to join this all-volunteer military. You chose to be a part of something larger than yourselves. You’ve made a difference in the world. You’ve done a world of good, and so keep it up.
Keep lit the flame of freedom to hand to the next generation. Keep defending America in this ancient land, as you stand courageously with our partners as they reach for freedom. And I say with confidence, because of all of you and all those that have gone before and our allies and partners, I believe victory is closer than ever before. (Applause.)
I believe with all my heart that Afghanistan will be free and America will be safe, and we’ll win this fight.
Now, as I close, let me just say again what a special honor it is for me to be with all of you, especially at this special time of the year. It was a few months ago when President Trump said to me he wanted me to get there — he wanted me to get there before a special holiday for the American people or I, just to make sure you knew that he was thinking of you and that millions of the American people have you on our hearts.
Now, I know there’s many faith traditions represented here. And no matter your background and belief, I hope you find renewal and renewed strength in this season. And for all of you who, like my family, in the coming days will look to a manger, and who will once again in your hearts claim the promise announced on a Holy Night — of peace on Earth and good will toward men — let me say, from the First Family and my family, from families all across America: Merry Christmas. (Applause.)
And to all of you, may God bless you. May God bless all who wear the uniform of the United States here in Afghanistan and across the wider world. May God bless the good people of Afghanistan and may God continue to bless the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.)