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Reports of Eroding Support For War Effort Concern Troops, General Says

By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 24, 2005 – Media reports that Americans are losing support for the war effort concern military leaders and troops serving abroad, the general responsible for troops in the Middle East said in congressional testimony here June 23.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, testifies June 23 before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington on the progress of Iraqi security forces as Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld looks on. Photo by Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen, USAF

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Army Gen. John Abizaid, chief of U.S. Central Command, was responding to questions from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee who said media polls show support for the war effort unraveling. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior defense leaders also spoke at the hearing.

Some in Congress have expressed support for a resolution calling for a timeline for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

Abizaid recently returned from the region, where he met with U.S. commanders in both Afghanistan and in Iraq. "It was interesting to me how many of our commanders and our troops ask me the question, 'Are we losing support at home?'" he said. A poll by CBS News on the organization's Web site shows the country is closely divided on the issue, with the percentage of Americans who say taking military action against Iraq was the right thing to do now at 45 percent. The poll shows 51 percent think the United States should have stayed out of Iraq.

Interestingly, Abizaid told the committee, he is asked the same question about U.S. commitment to the mission in Iraq and Afghanistan by those country's military leaders as well.

"Contrary to popular opinion, they want us there," he said. "They need us there. They appreciate our support, and they worry that we don't have the staying power to see the mission through.

"It's not that they necessarily want us there forever," the general added. "But ... they do want us there long enough so that they can be successful."

Abizaid said he's never seen such a gap between confidence in the mission area and lack of confidence in the Washington area.

"I think it's very important that we just keep talking to people about how confident we are in our ability to accomplish these missions out there, and how we need to understand that Iraqis and Afghans are fighting and dying for their own country side by side with our own soldiers," he emphasized.

"This is a worthy endeavor; it's a revolutionary endeavor. And if we're successful in stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan, we will be successful in really tamping down extremism in a tough part of the world, which will directly make our security back home better," Abizaid said.

Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq, said in his testimony that after a year on the ground he is "more convinced than ever" that the mission in Iraq is both "realistic and achievable."

"It will require patience, and it will require our will," he said. "But both the region and our country will be better when Iraq succeeds."

Giving credit to those who are fighting the war, Rumsfeld said in his opening statement that, "Today's servicemen and women, like the generations before them, are performing noble work."

"Though some pundits and observers -- nonparticipants -- have criticized the American military with inaccurate comparisons and purple rhetoric, those of us who work with the men and women in uniform know otherwise," he said. "Our fellow citizens in uniform serve with great compassion and with professionalism amid danger and provocation."

Rumsfeld went on to offer his "heartfelt and full appreciation" to the military families that sacrifice when their loved ones are deployed.

"And one day, all those who have made sacrifices on behalf of this cause -- and the American people who support their important work -- will find a place of honor in our country's history," he said. "And they will have won the appreciation and respect that they have richly earned."

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Donald H. Rumsfeld
Gen. John Abizaid, USA
Gen. George W. Casey Jr.

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