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Abizaid: 2005 Can Be a Decisive Year Against Extremism

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 2, 2005 – This year will likely be a momentous one for U.S. and coalition efforts in confronting extremism in the Middle East region, a senior U.S. officer told the House Armed Services Committee today.

American forces deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq the past few years "have not only been protecting the United States from attack," Army Gen. John P. Abizaid said to committee members, but "has also done much to help the (Middle East) region move forward in the direction of moderation."

Abizaid said he was "optimistic" about the situation across the Middle East, including future developments in Afghanistan and Iraq. As head of U.S. Central Command, he oversees U.S. troop operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"I think 2005 can be a decisive year," Abizaid said, in the fight against extremism in the Middle East. He pointed to recent events in Lebanon, where its citizens have called for the ouster of Syrian troops and intelligence agents from the country.

There's also renewed momentum in efforts to make peace between Palestinians and Israelis, Abizaid noted, as well as an opportunity "to establish greater stability in Afghanistan and Iraq."

This year should also provide Iraqi and Afghan forces an opportunity "to take more and more of the responsibility of fighting the insurgencies" within their countries, he said.

And the Pakistani and Saudi governments, Abizaid observed, can benefit from more U.S. and coalition assistance to help them confront extremists operating inside their borders.

However, the general cautioned committee members that extremist elements operating out of Iran and Syria could foment "more violence" across the Middle East.

"The extremist enemy that we face throughout the region will not surrender," Abizaid said, noting the extremists "won't move away, they'll continue their attacks."

By voting in nationwide elections held in their countries, the Afghan and Iraqi people have chosen to reject extremism and participate in a democratic process, Abizaid observed.

"This battle between moderation and extremism in the region is one that the people of the region have chosen to fight, and they can't win it without our help," he concluded.

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