President Obama hailed the imminent end of combat operations in Afghanistan during a Christmas Day meeting with troops in Hawaii, but added that challenges remain in that country and across the globe.

“We’ve been in continuous war now for over 13 years,” Obama told troops and their families Thursday at a Christmas dinner at Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay.

A service member shouted “hurrah” when Obama mentioned that the combat mission in Afghanistan will end next week.

“Because of the extraordinary service of the men and women in the Armed Forces.” Obama said, “Afghanistan has a chance to rebuild its own country. We are safer. It’s not going to be a source of terrorist attacks again.”

The president, accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama, added that “we still have some very difficult missions around the world,” including the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

“We still have folks in Afghanistan helping the Afghan security forces,” Obama said. “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.”

In concluding his Christmas message, Obama said:

“So on a day when we celebrate the Prince of Peace and many of us count or blessings one of the greatest blessings we have is the extraordinary dedication and sacrifices you all make. We could not be more thankful. I know I speak for everyone in the entire country when I say, we salute you.”

On Christmas Eve, the president made holiday telephone calls to members of every service branch stationed around the globe.

“In these calls he expressed his gratitude for the service and sacrifice of our troops and their families,” said a White House statement.