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Coalition forces have prevailed as major combat ends, Bush declares

ABOARD USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (BP)–Major combat operations in Iraq have ended, President Bush declared May 1 from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast of San Diego. “In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed,” he said. “And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country.”

The president made history when he landed on the USS Lincoln in the co-pilot’s seat of a Navy S-3B Viking, marking the first time a sitting president has landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier by plane. Bush, who was an F-102 fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard after graduating from Yale University in 1968, momentarily took control of the jet during flight.

In his address, the president commended the military for fighting for the cause of liberty and the peace of the world.

“Your courage, your willingness to face danger for your country and for each other made this day possible,” Bush said below a sign that read, “Mission Accomplished,” on the carrier’s tower. “Because of you, our nation is more secure. Because of you, the tyrant has fallen and Iraq is free.”

Noting that Marines and soldiers charged to Baghdad across 350 miles of hostile ground in one of the swiftest advances of heavy arms in history, the president told the troops they have shown the world the skill and the might of the American armed forces.

“The character of our military through history — the daring of Normandy, the fierce courage of Iwo Jima, the decency and idealism that turned enemies into allies — is fully present in this generation,” Bush said. “When Iraqi civilians looked into the faces of our servicemen and women, they saw strength and kindness and goodwill.”

The president also mentioned the great strides in technology that have changed the way war is conducted. In defeating Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, Allied forces destroyed entire cities, he said. Military power was used to end a regime by breaking a nation.

“Today, we have the greater power to free a nation by breaking a dangerous and aggressive regime,” Bush said. “With new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians. No device of man can remove tragedy from war; yet it is a great moral advance when the guilty have far more to fear from war than the innocent.”

Bush reminded the nation that difficult work still lies ahead in Iraq, including the pursuit of leaders of the old regime, bringing order to parts of the country that remain dangerous, searching for chemical and biological weapons and rebuilding a nation where “the dictator built palaces for himself instead of hospitals and schools.”

“The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort,” the president said. “Our coalition will stay until our work is done. Then we will leave, and we will leave behind a free Iraq.”

The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began Sept. 11, 2001, and continues today, Bush said. In Afghanistan, special operations forces are on the trail of terrorists and those who seek to undermine the free government of that country. “America and our coalition will finish what we have begun,” he said.

Nineteen months after pledging that terrorists would not escape the patient judgment of the United States, the president announced that nearly one-half of al Qaeda’s senior operatives have been captured or killed.

“In these 19 months that changed the world, our actions have been focused and deliberate and proportionate to the offense,” Bush said.

Drawing a relationship between America’s tradition of liberty and the war on terror, the president said the advance of freedom is the surest strategy to undermine the appeal of terror in the world.

“Where freedom takes hold, hatred gives way to hope,” he said. “When freedom takes hold, men and women turn to the peaceful pursuit of a better life.”

But Bush acknowledged that though al Qaeda is wounded, it is not destroyed. Scattered cells of the terrorist network still work to bring destruction upon free nations, but the United States is undeterred.

“The enemies of freedom are not idle, and neither are we,” the president declared.

“The war on terror is not over; yet it is not endless,” Bush said. “We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide.”

A word about homecoming drew the loudest applause from the flight deck during the president’s speech.

“Other nations in history have fought in foreign lands and remained to occupy and exploit,” he said. “Americans, following a battle, want nothing more than to return home. And that is your direction tonight.”

The crew of the USS Lincoln has completed the longest carrier deployment in recent history, traveling 100,000 miles in service in the Afghan and Iraqi theaters of war. Bush noted that 150 babies were born while their fathers were on the Lincoln.

But to those families whose loved ones will not be returning with the ship, the president said they are not forgotten.

“Every name, every life is a loss to our military, to our nation and to the loved ones who grieve. There’s no homecoming for these families. Yet we pray, in God’s time, their reunion will come,” he said.

Reminding the military that they’ve taken up the highest calling in history, the commander in chief closed with encouraging words.

“You’re defending your country and protecting the innocent from harm. And wherever you go, you carry a message of hope — a message that is ancient and ever new,” he said. “In the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘To the captives, ‘come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘be free,””
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: MAKING HISTORY and ‘MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.’

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  • Erin Curry