Abizaid: War on Terror Requires Patience, Perseverance
By John Valceanu
American Forces Press Service
DOHA, Qatar, Feb. 17, 2005 The elections in Iraq were a significant accomplishment for the citizens of that nation, and Iraqi forces have come a long way, but the Iraqi people need the continuing help of coalition forces to combat the forces of extremism, according to the commander of U.S. Central Command.
Army Gen. John Abizaid is traveling in his command's area of responsibility, which includes the Middle East, central Asia and the Horn of Africa. Thanking troops for their service, Abizaid said that winning the global war on terrorism will require patience and perseverance, and he warned against warned of the tendency to declare victory and head home too early.
"We're not out of the woods. Not in Iraq. Not yet. It's been quieter since the elections, but the situation in this area can get out of hand real quickly if you're not prepared," Abizaid told a group of sailors aboard the USS Harry S. Truman on Feb. 15. "I'm optimistic. I think the political process will move in a good direction. The fact that people are willing to risk their lives to take the opportunity we are offering them is amazing."
The long-term goal, according to Abizaid, is to decrease the U.S. military presence in the area and to allow countries like Iraq and Afghanistan to be responsible for their own security. At this point, there is no way of knowing how long that might take.
"We won't always need to have 250,000 troops in the theater, and I anticipate we'll be able to reduce the force when the Iraqis are better able to control their security situation, but we will need to remain on the offense against the enemy," Abizaid said. "It's not for us to defeat the insurgents in Iraq. The Iraqi people will have to defeat the insurgents in their own country, but they'll need our help for some time. They can't do it alone yet."
The United States has no intention to dominate Iraq or any other country in the region, according to Abizaid, but the U.S. needs to be able to help countries fight extremist insurgents seeking to create Taliban-like regimes in the area and export terrorism.
"Don't let anyone tell you that events in Iraq and Afghanistan are unrelated to our security back home," Abizaid said, referring to the extremist element fighting against coalition forces in Iraq. "This is the same enemy that brought you 9/11, and now they're working day in and day out to acquire weapons of mass destruction," Abizaid said. "It's our job to be out here in the middle of these guys and stop them. We have to keep them fighting here, so they can't bring the fight to us."
Servicemembers should be prepared for a lengthy war against extremism, Abizaid said, and that means military lives will not be as predictable as they were before the war.
"This is going to be a long war against a small group of people for a long time," Abizaid said. "As long as we're wearing the uniform, things will never go back to how it was before 9/11."