WASHINGTON (May 22, 2008) – President Bush praised his choice as the new commander of U.S. Central Command and vowed that U.S. commanders will receive all available resources to defeat Iraq-based terrorists during his visit to Fort Bragg, N.C.
In his address, Bush welcomed thousands of 82nd Airborne Division soldiers who’d returned stateside after combat duty tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. The commander in chief also bestowed several military awards.
The surge strategy overseen by Army Gen. David H. Petraeus as commander of Multi-National Force - Iraq has achieved notable results, Bush told thousands of 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers.
Petraeus, a former 82nd Airborne commander, has performed “a brilliant job leading our troops in Iraq,” Bush said, noting Petraeus was his “first and only choice” to become the new commander of U.S. Central Command, which oversees operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region. Petraeus faced his confirmation hearing Thursday at the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The surge operations launched more than a year ago drove al-Qaida and other insurgents out of Baghdad and its environs, which resulted in reduced violence and improved security in Iraq’s capital city. The 30,000 or so additional U.S. forces employed during the surge are systematically being redeployed, Bush noted. By July or so, there should be about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
“When we complete this drawdown, we will have reduced our combat brigades in Iraq by 25 percent from the year before,” Bush pointed out. Meanwhile, Petraeus and other U.S. commanders in Iraq will continue to “analyze the situation on the ground and report back to me with their recommendations for future troop levels,” Bush said.
The president also made a pledge to U.S. commanders in Iraq.
“You will have all the troops, [and] you will have all the resources you need to win in Iraq,” Bush vowed. “When our country succeeds in Iraq, generations of Americans will be more secure."
The first of four conditions of success in Iraq, he said, will be achieved when the Iraqi government can protect its citizens. Iraqi soldiers and police are now assuming greater responsibility in fighting terrorists, policing the streets and defending their land, he said.
“We can also expect the Iraqi security forces to be better-equipped, better-trained and better able to take the fight to the enemy, and as they do, they can count on the United States of America,” Bush said.
The second condition for success in Iraq is when it can support itself economically, the president said. Iraq has made great economic gains since the start of the surge, he said.
“Inflation is declining. Economic growth is increasing. Investment in the energy and telecom industries is increasing,” Bush said, adding that Iraqi energy production also is rising.
“We provided critical help to Iraq early on, and now that the economy expands, the government in Baghdad has a solemn responsibility to invest in its people, pay for its infrastructure and pay for its own security,” Bush said.
The third condition for success in Iraq is when it becomes a democracy that governs itself effective and responds to the will of its citizens, Bush said.
Bush acknowledged that Iraqis, like any other people, have political differences. But, the president said, he’s heartened by Iraqis’ rejection of relying on militias or other extremists for protection.
“We can’t expect them to reach agreement on every issue,” Bush said of the Iraqi political process. “But, we can expect Iraqis of all backgrounds to take an increasingly active role in the democratic process, share power and settle disputes by debating in the halls of government, rather than fighting in the streets.”
The fourth condition for success in Iraq is when it is an ally in the war on terror, Bush noted. “The Iraqis understand firsthand how the terrorists murder and maim with no respect for innocent life,” the president observed. “It is no coincidence that a nation that has suffered mightily at the hands of terror is becoming a strong ally in the war against the terrorists.”
The Iraqi government wants to solidify its relationship with the United States, Bush said. Last year, he recalled, the United States and Iraq agreed to sign a long-term strategic partnership.
“This partnership would support future cooperation between our countries without establishing permanent bases or without binding a future president to specific troop levels,” Bush explained. “Part of this agreement would provide legal protection for American troops in Iraq similar to those in other countries where our forces are deployed.”
The U.S.-Iraq agreement also “would show our friends across the world that America will stand with them as they stand against terror,” Bush said. He warned that final success in Iraq won’t be achieved easily, and there will be tough fighting ahead, Bush told the assembled paratroopers. However, the progress that’s being achieved in Iraq today “is undeniable,” he emphasized, adding that U.S. forces have greatly contributed to that progress.
“Because of your bravery and your courage, the terrorists and extremists are on the run, and we are on our way to victory,” Bush said.
During his Fort Bragg visit, the president met with 150 “Gold Star” mothers whose sons or daughters died during military service. He also participated in a rededication ceremony for the division’s memorial for soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.