Obama Thanks Team That Killed Bin Laden
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
President Obama is not planning to change course in Afghanistan. He's been under pressure to accelerate the troop withdrawal now that Osama bin Laden is dead. Today, the president flew to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in part to explain his reasoning to some of the very people he sends into harm's way. Before that, he held an economic event in Indianapolis.
NPR's Ari Shapiro has been traveling with the president, and he joins us from Kentucky.
And Ari, let's start with the first event of the president's day. Why go to Indianapolis on a week when the country is focused on bin Laden's death?
ARI SHAPIRO: Well, this is also a week that new jobs numbers came out, and President Obama knows that when Osama bin Laden is off the front pages, the economy and gas prices will be back on the front pages.
Those jobs numbers were better than expected. The government said that private-sector jobs added about 268,000 new payrolls in April, and so he wanted to celebrate that and also send a message that he is not taking his eye off the economy.
He visited a company in Indianapolis that makes clean energy technology, and he repeated the message he often delivers, that he believes the jobs of the future in America will come from clean energy.
BLOCK: And Ari, was there a political element to that visit in Indiana, as well?
SHAPIRO: You know, not overtly, but it was right beneath the surface. When President Obama walked down the steps from Air Force One, Governor Mitch Daniels was there to greet him, who is widely believed to be considering a presidential run.
You know, Indiana is a state that President Obama won in 2008 by just around 30,000 votes. When White House spokesman Jay Carney was asked aboard Air Force One whether it was just coincidence that this event was taking place in a swing state, he said: It's a long time before next year's election, and this president firmly believes that making the right policy decisions tends to be beneficial come political season.
BLOCK: Yeah, well, then the president flew on to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and met in private with members of the team that conducted the raid on bin Laden's compound. What was his public message to troops there after that meeting?
SHAPIRO: Well, the first big message was: Thank you, job well done. He said that the troops that he met with in private deserve credit for one of the greatest intelligence and military operations in the nation's history.
And then he defended his decision to send these troops to war in the first place and to stay the course in Afghanistan and Pakistan, even now that Osama bin Laden is dead. Here's some of what he said.
President BARACK OBAMA: Most of all, we're making progress in our major goal, our central goal in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that is disrupting and dismantling, and we are going to ultimately defeat al-Qaeda.
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President OBAMA: We have cut off their head (unintelligible).
BLOCK: Ari, have you had a chance to talk with some of the troops there at Fort Campbell?
SHAPIRO: Yes, and, you know, I hear different opinions from different people. I spoke with two young soldiers, a 21-year-old and a 22-year-old, who had just returned from Afghanistan one week ago. The night that Osama bin Laden was killed was their first night back home.
Obviously, everybody is happy that bin Laden is dead, but one of these young soldiers said: He's dead. Mission accomplished. It's time to come and focus on domestic problems. The other said: We started something, and we have to finish it. We need to see our commitment through to the end.
And you might be amused to hear I asked both of these soldiers: Well, what was the atmosphere like on the base that night, on Sunday, when the news came out that Osama bin Laden is dead? They both said: You know what? It was my first night home from five months in Afghanistan. I was with my wife. I was not about to leave her to see what the atmosphere was like on the base.
BLOCK: Ari, the president also relayed a very moving story about a conversation he had with the daughter of a man killed on 9/11, a letter he received.
SHAPIRO: That's right, from a 14-year-old who talked about when she was age four, hearing her father's voice on the phone line as he was in the World Trade Center, telling her that he would look over her for the rest of her life. This girl wrote to President Obama, talking about her experience. He asked her to be at Ground Zero yesterday, and he told her story to the obviously emotionally affected troops who were here listening to him and hearing his thanks.
BLOCK: Okay, NPR's Ari Shapiro, traveling with President Obama. Thank you so much.
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