U.S. President George Bush says Iraq's military is making progress against Iranian-backed militia and al-Qaeda terrorists. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, Mr. Bush spoke to U.S. troops returning from the war.
President Bush reviewed paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division who are returning to their base at Fort Bragg, North Carolina from extended, 15-month deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"We've asked a lot of you. You've achieved difficult objectives in a new kind of war," Mr. Bush said. "You've performed with skill and valor. And on behalf of a grateful nation: Welcome home."
When President Bush ordered 30,000 reinforcements to Iraq in 2006, the 82nd Airborne's Falcon Brigade was the first to arrive. Mr. Bush says that surge has improved security sufficiently to bring most of those divisions home, leaving about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
The president used the Fort Bragg troop review to again outline his vision for success in the war.
"Success will be when al-Qaeda has no safe haven in Iraq and Iraqis can protect themselves. Success will be when Iraq is a nation that can support itself economically," Mr. Bush said. "Success will be when Iraq is a democracy that governs itself effectively and responds to the will of its people. Success will be when Iraq is a strong and capable ally in the war on terror. And when our country succeeds in Iraq, generations of Americans will be more secure."
President Bush told the troops that there is still tough fighting ahead, but Iraq's military is taking on more responsibility for its own security by fighting al-Qaeda terrorists in the north and Iranian-backed militia in the south.
A public opinion poll last week showed more than two-thirds of Americans disapprove of the president's handling of the war. Congressional Democrats have repeatedly sought to limit that conflict by putting conditions on further funding to force the president to bring more troops home.
Mr. Bush wants lawmakers to approve additional funding for the fight that does not tie the hands of commanders on the ground. He says the premature withdrawal of troops would be catastrophic as it would increase the likelihood of another terrorist attack because al-Qaeda would have new safe havens.
"Withdrawal before success would embolden Iran in its nuclear weapons ambitions and its efforts to dominate the region," Mr. Bush said. "Withdrawal before success would send a signal to terrorists and extremists across the world that America is weak and does not have the stomach for a long fight."
Last year's division review was canceled because nearly all of the 82nd Airborne was in Iraq and Afghanistan. The division's 1st Brigade Combat Team is expected back from Iraq in July. Its 3rd Brigade Combat Team will return to Iraq later this year.