Obama praises 'fallen heroes', touts end of Mideast wars

U.S. President Barack Obama (left) and U.S. Army Military District of Washington Commanding General Jeffrey Buchanan participate in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of the Memorial Day observance at Arlington Nati
U.S. President Barack Obama (left) and U.S. Army Military District of Washington Commanding General Jeffrey Buchanan participate in the wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as part of the Memorial Day observance at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia, on May 25, 2015. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Barack Obama paid a Memorial Day tribute to America's "fallen heroes" Monday, stressing the heavy burden of perennial wars and underscoring his decision to pull troops from Afghanistan and Iraq.

Echoing Abraham Lincoln's praise for those who offered the "last full measure of devotion," Mr Obama praised "everyday heroes" who died in the "mountains of Korea, the jungles of Vietnam, the deserts of the Middle East" and in countless other conflagrations.

While looking to the past, Mr Obama's address was tinged by war politics that have pervaded Washington for a generation and which are still alive today.

"For many of us, this Memorial Day is especially meaningful; it is the first since our war in Afghanistan came to an end," he said.

"Today is the first Memorial Day in 14 years that the United States is not engaged in a major ground war."

The Nobel Prize-winning president fulfilled an election promise to wind down the wars in Afghanistan that killed 2,200 Americans and Iraq where there are now fewer than 10,000 non-combat troops.

But Monday's comments come as criticism of his actions in Iraq reach a fresh crescendo.

Republicans in particular accuse Mr Obama of creating a dangerous power vacuum that has been filled by jihadists from the Islamic State group.

The group now controls swaths of Iraq and Syria and looks poised for further offensives against an outmatched Iraqi army.

Some are pressing Mr Obama to put American boots back on the ground. He has refused to return combat troops to Iraq and looked to air power, drones, diplomacy and education gathering to counter Al Qaeda, Islamic State and other groups.

Mr Obama on Monday again sought to draw a line under the era of the "9/11 generation" which saw the United States enmeshed in vast battles on multiple fronts.