Obama to honor troops, thank raid participants
WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's carefully calibrated response to the killing of Osama bin Laden is shifting from remembrance to appreciation.One day after laying a wreath at the site of the World Trade Center in New York City, the president was to go to Fort Campbell, Ky., to thank participants in the daring raid on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan five days ago.
Obama, however, is seeking to convey a return to the business of governing. He was also to stop in Indianapolis on Friday to promote his energy policies and showcase a transmission plant that produces systems for hybrid vehicles.
White House officials say that at Fort Campbell Obama will express his gratitude to the raid participants privately. But the president, joined by Vice President Joe Biden, also will address soldiers who have returned recently from Afghanistan, a public forum where the military triumph will be hard to mask.
Obama so far has tried to avoid rejoicing publicly over bin Laden's death. But he has maintained a steady stream of events and activities that have kept the success of the remarkable commando operation at the forefront. On Thursday he visited New York fire and police stations that responded to the Sept. 11, 2001, attack that was carried out by bin Laden's al-Qaida operatives, and he met privately with victims' families. He also has given an interview about the operation to CBS that will air Sunday on "60 Minutes."
In New York, Obama did not mention bin Laden by name. He didn't have to.
"When we say we will never forget, we mean what we say," Obama told firefighters.
At the same time, the White House is wary of overplaying its hand. Obama has decided not to release photographs of bin Laden's corpse, saying, "We don't need to spike the football."
As a result, the president also has hewed to his regular schedule, participating in policy sessions and routine ceremonial events. The trip to Indianapolis originally had been scheduled for last month, but Obama canceled it as he negotiated an eleventh-hour deal with Congress to avoid a government shutdown.
Without bin Laden's death to overshadow it, the Indianapolis trip would have policy and political consequences. Obama has been promoting his energy policies as a long-term answer to rising oil prices and U.S. dependence on foreign oil. The skyrocketing cost of gasoline had caused Obama's public approval numbers to dip until bin Laden's death shoved them back up. What's more, Indiana is a battleground state that Obama won narrowly in 2008 by less than 30,000 votes. The state's governor, Mitch Daniels, is contemplating a presidential run and would be considered a top contender for the Republican nomination.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood previewed the Indianapolis trip Thursday, promoting Obama administration policies that foster the manufacture of hybrid vehicles. Obama will tour the headquarters of Allison Transmission, which develops transmissions for hybrid propulsion systems.
LaHood said the administration this fall will announce long-awaited new mileage standards for the 2017-2025 model year vehicles. Under rules adopted last year, the average mileage of the new vehicle fleet will rise to 35.5 mpg by 2016, an increase of more than 40 percent over current standards.
Still, the centerpiece of the day for the president will be the stop at Fort Campbell.
The fort is home to the 101st Airborne Division and many of its combat teams have returned recently from tours of duty in Afghanistan. But its main draw for Obama is the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, the highly specialized Army unit that carried Navy SEALs to bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
The unit, known as Night Stalkers, has fought in nearly every U.S. conflict, from Grenada to Afghanistan, and they were memorialized in the mission that resulted in the book and movie "Black Hawk Down." Many of its missions are classified and among its primary duties are flying special forces commandos behind enemy lines using night-vision technology and low-flying techniques.
They are equipped with Black Hawk, Chinook and MH-6 Little Bird helicopters. Aviation experts said a helicopter used in the bin Laden raid appeared to be a stealthier, top secret and never-before-seen version of a routinely used special ops helicopter. The helicopter made a hard landing and was destroyed by the military team at the site, leaving behind wreckage for experts to analyze.
White House officials would not offer details on the meeting between the president and the participants of the raiding party.
"The successful mission against Osama bin Laden is a monumental achievement," White House spokesman Jay Carney said. "But the fact remains that we're still at war, that we have 100,000 combat personnel in Afghanistan, we have troops in a support-and-assist role in Iraq, and we have U.S. military men and women in other places around the globe and, in some cases, in difficult situations."
"So it's important to acknowledge that and for Americans to remember that despite the elimination of bin Laden, we're still extremely dependent upon and grateful to our military men and women for what they do."
osama bin laden, president barack obama, national/world
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