By BEN FELLER
AP White House Correspondent
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (AP) — On a swift, secretive trip to the war zone, President Barack Obama declared Tuesday night that after years of sacrifice the U.S. combat role in Afghanistan is winding down just as it has already ended in Iraq. "We can see the light of a new day on the horizon," he said on the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death and in the midst of his own re-election campaign.
"Our goal is to destroy al-Qaida, and we are on a path to do exactly that," Obama said in an unusual speech to America broadcast from an air base halfway around the world.
He spoke after signing an agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai setting post-war promises and expectations. With two armored troop carriers as a backdrop, Obama made his remarks in the midst of his endeavor to win re-election as U.S. president and commander in chief.
The president landed in Bagram in darkness, and his helicopter roared to Kabul for the meeting with Karzai, under close guard, with only the outlines of the nearby mountains visible. Later, back at the base, he was surrounded by U.S. troops, shaking every hand. He ended his lightning visit with the speech delivered straight to the television camera — and the voters he was trying to reach back home.
"This time of war began in Afghanistan," he said. "With faith in each other, and our eyes fixed on the future, let us finish the work at hand and forge a just and lasting peace."
Earlier, he delivered a similarly upbeat message to tter in a separate agreement.
Overall, polling shows, Obama gets favorable marks compared to Romney in handling terrorism, and the president's public approval for his handling of the Afghan war has hovered around 50 percent of late.
The trip allows Obama to hold forth as commander in chief in the same week he plans to launch his official campaign travel with rallies in Virginia and Ohio.
"We've spent the last three-and-a-half years cleaning up after other folks' messes," Obama said at a fundraiser last weekend. "The war in Iraq is over. We're transitioning in Afghanistan. Al-Qaida is on the ropes. We've done what we said we'd do."
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Associated Press writers Anne Gearan and David Espo, Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this story.