President Bush says a new strategy involving increased use of Iraqi forces is beginning to succeed in keeping terrorists out of Iraqi cities. The president made the statement at the Pentagon following an extensive briefing on U.S. military activity in Iraq and Afghanistan. The president also said he will not listen to those Americans who want U.S. forces withdrawn from Iraq immediately, and he criticized Syria for not doing enough to stop the flow of terrorists through its territory to Iraq.
After meeting with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and senior military officers, President Bush praised what he indicated is a new approach to gaining control of Iraqi cities. He said progress in training Iraq's new army makes it possible.
"It used to be that after we cleared out a city, there were not enough qualified Iraqi troops to maintain control," said Mr. Bush. "And so what would happen is the terrorists would wait for us to leave and they would try to move back in, and sometimes with success. Now the increasing number of more capable Iraqi troops allows us to hold onto the cities we have taken from the terrorists."
President Bush also said Iraqi forces are taking a larger role in many military operations in the country. He said the operation now ending to gain control of the northwestern city of Najaf was the first to involve more Iraqi troops than foreign forces. And he reported that coalition and Iraqi efforts will shift to the west to secure the large, sparsely-populated Al-Anbar Province. The president said Iraqi forces will take control there, too, once the operation is completed.
With large-scale anti-war demonstrations planned for this weekend in Washington, President Bush repeated his view that the United States must press ahead and defeat the insurgents in Iraq, despite the casualties among U.S. forces.
"The only way the terrorists can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon the mission. For the security of the American people, that is not going to happen on my watch," added Mr. Bush.
He also said progress is being made against the terrorist networks, even though their top leaders have not been captured. And he called for Americans to understand that the struggle against global terrorism will take time to win, just as, the president said, the struggle against communism did. He said giving up in Iraq would only embolden the terrorists to take control of the country, and threaten the United States and its allies in the region and around the world.
President Bush also called for Syria to do more to secure its long border with Iraq.
"In order to secure a border, it takes cooperation on both sides of the border," said Mr. Bush. "And we are getting limited cooperation from Syria. We have made it clear to Syria we expect them to help us secure their border and stop the transit of suiciders coming from other countries through Syria to Iraq. Their response has not been very satisfactory, to date. [We] continue to remind them of their obligation."
The president also said the coalition is training the new Iraqi forces to better secure the country's borders.