FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. (AP) — Behind closed doors, President Barack Obama was bringing his personal thanks Friday to some of the secretive special operations forces who stormed Osama bin Laden's compound.
The president was meeting with some of the Navy SEALS who carried out the operation in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and the elite helicopter crews who flew them in. He was then to speak to troops recently back from Afghanistan, where the fighting and search for an endgame continues despite the death of the terrorist who masterminded the killing of nearly 3,000 Americans on Sept. 11, 2001.
Hundreds of soldiers clad in fatigues milled about in front of an enormous American flag as they waited in a hangar for Obama to arrive. The mood looked celebratory as troops wearing combat boots broke out occasional dance moves. But Obama has said there's no need to "spike the ball" and revel in bin Laden's death, and presidential spokesman Jay Carney said his comments would reflect that attitude.
"I don't expect you'll hear the president spiking the ball and gloating when he speaks to troops returning from Afghanistan," Carney told reporters traveling with the president Friday on Air Force One. "The point he will make is that while the successful mission against Osama bin Laden was an historic and singular event, it doesn't by any means mean that we are finished with the war against al-Qaida. The fight goes on."
That was underscored by a new al-Qaida statement released Friday that threatened retaliation for bin Laden's death and said that Americans' "happiness will turn to sadness." Its authenticity could not be independently confirmed.
"We are aware of it. We've seen the reports," Carney said. "What it does obviously is acknowledge the obvious, which is that Osama bin Laden was killed on Sunday night by U.S. forces. ... We're quite aware of the potential for (terrorist) activity and are highly vigilant on that matter for that reason."
Fort Campbell is home to the famous 101st Airborne Division, and many of its combat teams have returned recently from tours of duty in Afghanistan. But another 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 Pakistan five days ago.
Carney would say only that Obama planned to meet privately with "special operators" involved in the bin Laden raid. But a U.S. official briefed on the trip confirmed that the president would be meeting with some of the SEALs who were on the mission, in addition to the helicopter crew members who flew them there. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.
Obama's visit to Fort Campbell, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, comes a day after he traveled to New York to lay a wreath at ground zero and talk with firefighters, police officers and family members of those killed on Sept. 11.
At the same time the president was turning his focus back to the rest of his agenda and the country's struggling economy. Before arriving in Kentucky, Obama visited a plant in Indianapolis that produces transmission systems for hybrid vehicles.
He used the stop to promote his clean-energy agenda and welcome news that the economy added more than 200,000 jobs last month. "We are regaining our footing," Obama said at Allison Transmission.
April's labor market report marked the third straight month in which more than 200,000 jobs were created, the best three-month hiring spree in five years and a sign of increasing confidence in the private sector.
"We've made this progress at a time when our economy's been facing some serious headwinds," the president told workers, citing high gas prices and the earthquake in Japan.
"There will undoubtedly be some more challenges ahead, but the fact is that we are still making progress," he said. "And that proves how resilient the American economy is, and how resilient the American worker is, and that we can take a hit and we can keep on going forward."
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