WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush told Americans in a nationally televised speech June 28 the United States must maintain its presence in Iraq despite the attacks on its military until freedom is certain in that Middle East country and security is assured at home.
Speaking at Fort Bragg, N.C., Bush said he would not establish a timetable for removing U.S. troops from Iraq. He also said he would not increase the size of the American forces in that country unless commanders say more are needed.
The president spoke for 28 minutes at the home base for the Army’s airborne and special operations forces at a time when insurgent attacks on Iraqis and American troops are continuing. Bush acknowledged the violence has been difficult to observe.
“Like most Americans, I see the images of violence and bloodshed,” he said. “Every picture is horrifying, and the suffering is real. Amid all this violence, I know Americans ask the question: Is the sacrifice worth it? It is worth it, and it is vital to the future security of our country.”
Iraq is the “latest battlefield” in a war that began with terrorists using passenger planes as weapons Sept. 11, 2001, Bush said.
“There is only one course of action against them: to defeat them abroad before they attack us at home,” the president said. Fighters from other countries in the Middle East have converged on Iraq to “fight the advance of peace and freedom,” he said.
“The only way our enemies can succeed is if we forget the lessons of September the 11th,” Bush said, “if we abandon the Iraqi people to men like [terrorist leader Abu Musab] Zarqawi, and if we yield the future of the Middle East to men like [Osama] bin Laden. For the sake of our nation’s security, this will not happen on my watch.”
Like other Americans, Bush said he wants the troops to return home as soon as possible. While some, including a few members of Congress, have called for a deadline to withdraw U.S. troops, the president said that “would be a serious mistake.”
“Setting an artificial timetable would send the wrong message to the Iraqis, who need to know that America will not leave before the job is done,” Bush said. “It would send the wrong message to our troops, who need to know that we are serious about completing the mission they are risking their lives to achieve. And it would send the wrong message to the enemy, who would know that all they have to do is to wait us out.”
While Bush said he is willing to send more troops, he told Americans, “[O]ur commanders tell me they have the number of troops they need to do their job. Sending more Americans would undermine our strategy of encouraging Iraqis to take the lead in this fight.”
Progress in rebuilding Iraq after its liberation from the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein “has been uneven, but progress is being made,” the president said on the first anniversary of Iraq regaining its sovereignty.
Seventeen countries are providing troops as part of an effort by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to train Iraqi military and police forces, Bush said.
In what the president described as three new initiatives, the coalition supporting Iraq is providing military units to partner with Iraqi units; placing “transition teams” within Iraqi units for assistance; and helping the government strengthen its anti-terrorist efforts.
The president thanked the members of the country’s military, saying those in the service “are taking their rightful place among the greatest generations that have worn our nation’s uniform.”
Bush encouraged Americans to express their gratitude July 4 to the members of the armed forces. He cited a website, AmericaSupportsYou.mil, as a means of discovering such efforts in various communities.
A transcript of Bush’s speech is available online at www.whitehouse.gov.