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Bush: Progress Continues in Terror War, But Threat Remains

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23, 2006 – President Bush said today he will listen to military ground commanders, not polls or focus groups, when making decisions about force levels in Iraq.

The president spoke at Bramlage Coliseum, Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., to some 9,000 students, faculty, guests and soldiers from nearby Fort Riley. He then answered questions from the crowd for nearly two hours, covering a full range of issues involving the war on terror. Topics ranged from the rationale for military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq to successes already achieved and challenges still ahead.

Combat operations were used as a last resort in both countries, Bush told the crowd. In Afghanistan, the U.S. and coalition launched Operation Enduring Freedom only when the Taliban failed to oust al Qaeda operatives that were basing their operations there, he said.

Similarly, in Iraq, U.S. troops intervened only when former dictator Saddam Hussein refused to relent to U.N. resolutions, fueling widespread international suspicion that he harbored weapons of mass destruction, the president said. These weapons in the wrong hands represent "the biggest threat we face," he said.

The president said he fully understood the consequences of committing troops and putting them in harm's way, calling it "the hardest decision a president can make." But even more so, he said, he understood the consequences of not doing so and recognized that he would not have been doing his job of protecting the country if he hadn't.

The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against the United States proved once and for all that the country's citizens can no longer rely on the oceans to their east and west to protect them, Bush told the crowd.

"Threats must be taken seriously now because geography doesn't protect us and there's an enemy that still lurks," he said. As a result, "the United States must confront threats before they cause us harm."

"I resolved on (Sept. 11) to do everything I can for the American people," he said, calling the job of protecting the American people "my most important job."

As operations continue in both Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush pointed to ongoing progress on the political, security and economic fronts. Afghanistan is building its new democracy free of Taliban oppression and no longer providing a safe haven for terrorists, he said.

Similarly, Iraq's people are forging free of the dark shadow Saddam left on the country and the rest of the world for decades, he said. "There is no doubt that the world is better off without him," Bush said.

During the question-and-answer session, an Iraqi-American Kurd in the crowd who had several family members killed under Saddam's regime and now has two family members serving in Iraq's new parliament praised the president for his actions in Iraq.

"It was the best decision anyone could take, freeing 27 million people," she said." I would like to salute you and salute all the troops for freeing 27 million people. They are free."

Despite progress, the terrorist threat remains, the president told the audience. And as the memories of Sept. 11 fade in some people's minds, Bush said he's committed to ensuring that the day's tragic lessons aren't forgotten.

"There's an enemy that still wants to harm the American people," he said.

That enemy can't beat the United States militarily, Bush said. "The only way we lose is if we lose our nerve or will," he said.

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