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Bush Consoles Families of US Soldiers Killed in Afghan Operations - 2002-03-04

President Bush is sending condolences to the families of the U.S. soldiers killed in the ongoing military operation in eastern Afghanistan. The president said they lost their lives upholding values the American people hold dear.

The President said the soldiers died defending freedom. He said their mission was to hunt down terrorists holding out in the remote Afghan mountains. President Bush said, "...and so we sent teams in and there is some serious combat as I speak. And lives are lost. And we send our prayers and tears to those whose families have lost life."

He mixed words of comfort with words of determination, reminding Americans that the war on terrorism will not be quick or easy. "People say, 'how long is this going to last?' And the answer is for however long it takes to make sure America is secure," he continued.

News of the latest casualties reached the White House just hours before the president was scheduled to leave Washington to travel to the American midwest for a speech on education.

His first public comments on the military loss of life were delivered to students at a high school near Minneapolis, Minnesota, with Mr. Bush taking on the role of teacher and anticipating their questions. "And you are probably wondering why would somebody hit us," he asked? "It was because we love freedom. There are people who cannot stand a free society."

President Bush told them American forces went into Afghanistan not as conquerors, but as liberators. He said they remain to hunt down hold-out al-Qaida and Taleban fighters. "Defending freedom," he said, "is a noble cause and a just cause. And so long as I am the President of the United States, I will pursue those who want to hurt America and who want to take away our freedoms."

The president said he is confident that, over time, the United States will prevail, adding that the American people have the patience, the determination and the will to succeed.