President Barack Obama visited U.S. troops on Christmas Day at the Marine Corps Base in Hawaii, thanking them for their service as the military operations in Afghanistan draw to a close, and honoring the birth of Christ.
"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," Obama told the troops, according to ABC News.
"We could not be more thankful. I know I speak for everyone in the entire country when I say, we salute you."
The president, who was joined at the event by first lady Michelle Obama, noted that the U.S. has been engaged in operations in Afghanistan for over 13 years now, which are now coming to a close.
"Next week we will be ending our combat mission in Afghanistan. Because of the extraordinary service of the men and women in the Armed Forces, Afghanistan has a chance to rebuild its own country. We are safer. It's not going to be a source of terrorist attacks again. And we still have some very difficult missions around the world, including in Iraq," Obama continued.
"We still have folks in Afghanistan helping the Afghan security forces. We have people helping to deal with Ebola in Africa and obviously we have folks stationed all around the world. 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 each and every day."
The U.S. sent its Armed Forces into Afghanistan in 2011 to fight the Taliban following the Sept. 11 attacks on the mainland. American troops have remained in the country ever since, dealing with sporadic attacks by Islamic militants intent on taking back the government.
Reuters noted that although combat missions in Afghanistan are coming to an end, at least 10,800 American troops will remain stationed in the country for the first few months of 2015 to help provide support to local security forces.
Over 2,000 American troops have died in the Afghan conflict. Another 4,000 Afghan soldiers and police were killed in 2014 alone, with security remaining a great concern in the region.
At least 45 people were killed in a major suicide bomb blast at a volleyball game in the Paktika province in November, one of the deadliest single attacks carried out by the Taliban in recent months.
Obama shared his gratitude for American troops at a crowd of 420 people, including military personnel and their families.
The White House noted that the Obama family spent Christmas morning in Hawaii opening presents and singing carols, before spending the afternoon at the beach.
Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, spoke with wounded troops and their families at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, The Associated Press added.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel also made telephone calls to military members on deployment, while Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., spent Christmas in Kabul, Afghanistan, meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his chief executive officer, Abdullah Abdullah.