After nearly 12 years, the war in Afghanistan is winding down, President Obama told troops at Camp Pendleton, Calif. on Wednesday, but he added, "The end of the war in Afghanistan doesn't mean the end of threats to our nation."
Al Qaeda affiliates and like-minded extremists still threaten the U.S. homeland and its embassies abroad, the president said, alluding to the recent terrorist threats that prompted the closing of several embassies. "We've got to take these threats seriously," he said.
Mr. Obama hailed the troops, whom he called the "9/11 generation," for "accomplishing what we set out to do."
"Because of you, Osama bin Laden is no more," he said. "Because of you, al Qaeda's top ranks have been hammered... the core of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan is on the way to defeat."
At the same time, he acknowledged, "This is a complicated time. The world is going through big changes, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. We have to have a military strategy to protect ourselves."
CBS News national security analyst Juan Zarate told CBSNews.com that the spread of the al Qaeda movement to places like Yemen and North Africa is "a difficult challenge for the administration to explain: How is it that al Qaeda's been on the run, but we're now facing this kind of threat?"
The administration has responded to the recent threats in part with five drone strikes in Yemen in the past two weeks, proving Zarate said, that in the face of incomplete intelligence, the administration is willing to "strike first and ask questions later."
Mr. Obama told the troops Wednesday that as the Afghanistan war winds down, the military will become leaner. Still, he said, the government shouldn't slash budgets that help the military and veterans. "That's why I'm going to keep working to get rid of the sequester," he said.
The president also addressed the sexual assault crisis in the military, telling troops, "I want you to hear it directly from me, the commander in chief: It undermines what this military stands for and it undermines what the Marine Corps stands for when sexual assault takes place within our units. That's why we are going to work together, all of us, to stop these crimes of sexual assault."
Before delivering his speech, the president met with wounded warriors and Gold Star families. He also met with Reps. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.; Susan Davis, D-Calif.; and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.