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Report from Iraq: US General Spends Thanksgiving With Troops - 2003-11-27


For many U.S. troops in Iraq, Thursday meant taking a brief break from daily street patrols and hunt for insurgents to celebrate the American Thanksgiving holiday. The commanding general of coalition forces in Baghdad visited local bases to thank his soldiers for their service in Iraq.

U.S. Army Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez visited nearly half a dozen bases Thursday, surprising several hundred soldiers as they sat down to eat their Thanksgiving meal.

The three-star general says he just wanted to give each one of them a personal, heartfelt message. "Thanks for all their sacrifices and dedication, especially for their families' sacrifices in support of our missions here because they're the ones who enable us to give us the strength," he said.

For many U.S. troops in Iraq, combat did not end on May 1st, when President Bush declared major fighting over.

Since that day, more than 180 soldiers have been attacked and killed by a small but increasingly determined group of anti-coalition opponents across the country. The military says U.S. troops were being attacked an average of 40 times a day during the first two weeks of November, which saw some of the bloodiest fighting since the war began seven months ago.

Helping himself to a traditional fare of turkey, ham and mashed potatoes, 20 year-old Specialist David Burdette says he never expected to spend Thanksgiving in Iraq, still focused on fighting a war.

"We always spent Thanksgiving at the house back in Kentucky," he said. "So that's where I figured I'd be. I didn't think I'd be in the Army by this time either."

In recent days, the numbers of attacks against U.S. forces have dramatically decreased. The general in charge of U.S. Central Command says that is because American forces have pursued insurgents more aggressively in an attempt to stop them before they strike.

Spirits were high Thursday as some soldiers braved hour-long lines to get a taste of home.

Along with thousands of pumpkin and pecan pies, The U.S. military shipped in 66-thousand kilograms of turkey, 32,000 kilograms of beef and ham, and 17-thousand kilograms of shrimp to feed some 130,000 soldiers and Marines deployed here to establish security.

The military is likely to provide similar amount of food for Christmas to give soldiers another brief, but welcomed, break from the war.

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