By Matt Spetalnick
FORT STEWART, Georgia (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Friday carefully alluded to the U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden, while his campaign unveiled a new political ad that touted his decision to order the commando raid nearly a year ago as reason to re-elect him in November.
Obama's visit to Fort Stewart, a sprawling Georgia military base and home of the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, was billed as a chance to showcase his administration's efforts to help U.S. veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan struggling to re-adjust to civilian life.
But the president began his speech by thanking U.S. troops and special operations forces for achievements his re-election campaign is also keen to cite, including the death of the al Qaeda leader who planned the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington and then evaded capture for nearly a decade.
"Future generations will speak of your achievements. They'll speak of how the 3rd Infantry Division's 'thunder run' into Baghdad signaled the end of a dictatorship and how you brought Iraq back from the brink of civil war," he told more than 10,000 soldiers, veterans and their family members at the base in Georgia.
"They'll speak of you and your service in Afghanistan and in the fight against al Qaeda, which you have put on the path to defeat. And to the members of the Special Operations Forces community, while the American people may never know the full extent of your service, they will surely speak of how you kept our country safe and strong and how you delivered justice to our enemies," he said.
Obama, a Democrat, did not mention bin Laden by name in his remarks to the troops. But hours earlier, his campaign put out a video that touted Obama's leadership in approving the raid that killed the al Qaeda leader in the pre-dawn hours of May 2 in Pakistan, which was May 1 in the United States.
"The commander-in-chief gets one chance to make the right decision," the video said, also quoting former President Bill Clinton praising Obama for ordering the raid on bin Laden's compound in Pakistan.
"Which path would Mitt Romney have taken?" it asks, before referring to news reports quoting the former Massachusetts governor saying it was "not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person."
The killing of bin Laden sent Americans into the street in late-night celebrations and was seen at the time as a major boost for Obama. But it also fanned anti-American sentiment in the Muslim world, particularly Pakistan, which was deeply embarrassed by the raid.
The Obama administration does not want the anniversary to pass without some credit going to the president. But it is also mindful that he must not appear to be reveling in bin Laden's death to exploit it for election-year gains.
Romney has said little about the anniversary.
Under fire from the Obama campaign as inexperienced on foreign policy, Romney accuses the White House of being paralyzed over the violence in Syria and weak on Iran and North Korea, which are at odds with Western nations over their nuclear programs.
The presumptive Republican presidential nominee's campaign said this week that Obama had left U.S. allies and dissidents exposed and isolated.
The president was joined at Fort Stewart by First Lady Michelle Obama, popular among the troops for making a signature issue of veterans policy - including jobs, education, medical care and reducing homelessness.
After his remarks, focused on the need to support those returning from war, Obama signed a directive aimed at curbing abusive practices by colleges and universities he said preyed on veterans for their federal education benefits, including signing up soldiers with brain injuries.
The White House has been rolling out new veterans' initiatives regularly while his campaign courts the military community as a key voting bloc.
Obama lost the overall veterans' vote - which traditionally tilts conservative - to Republican John McCain, a decorated war hero, in the 2008 presidential election, though the Democrat was favored by younger veterans.
Obama's strategists believe he can do better this year among war-weary military families, especially in several key swing states, boosted not only by his administration's veterans initiatives but by a record of winding down U.S. involvement in Iraq and forging an exit strategy from Afghanistan.
Fort Stewart is a major staging area for troops deployed to Afghanistan - as it was previously for the war in Iraq.
Obama's visit to Georgia, a state he lost in 2008 and which is expected to vote Republican again in November, was a deviation from his recent travel itinerary, which has focused on battleground states likes Ohio, Colorado and Michigan.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Laura MacInnis; Editing by Paul Simao)