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Bush Makes Defense Budget 'Top Priority'

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4, 2002 – Now that the United States has put the Taliban out of business, President George W. Bush says the military's next objective in Afghanistan is clear.

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Airmen greet President Bush with cheers and applause during his visit to Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Feb. 4, 2002. Photo by Paul Morse, White House.

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

"We have to run down Al Qaeda and the rest of the terrorists -- and maybe give them a free trip to Guantanamo Bay (Cuba)," he told several hundred cheering Air Force personnel today at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.

He said the fight against terrorism requires a strong military. "We must keep it strong with new investments in equipment and we must keep it strong by attracting and retaining the best and the brightest in our country," he said. That's why he said he's asked Congress to set the military budget as "our No. 1 priority and fully fund my request."

Bush is asking for a fiscal 2003 defense budget of $379.4 billion, an increase of $48 billion over the fiscal 2002 budget. The request funds the war on terrorism, increases defense funds spent on homeland security and begins financing transformation for the U.S. military to face the challenges of the 21st century.

The war in Afghanistan has demonstrated the value of precision-guided weapons. "The budget I submit makes it clear we need more of them," the president said.

"We need to be agile, quick to move," he said. "We need to replace aging aircraft and get ready to be able to defend freedom with the best equipment possible."

America's men and women in uniform deserve the best weapons, equipment and training, he said, and that's why he's asked for the largest increase in the defense budget in a generation. His budget request also includes a military pay raise.

Ridding Afghanistan of Al Qaeda terrorists and their Taliban supporters is only the first step in the war against global terrorism, the president said.

"Another objective is to prevent regimes that sponsor terror from threatening America or our friends and allies with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons," he said. Bush then repeated a passage from his Jan. 29 State of the Union address: "I put them on notice, 'The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons.' It is now up to them to change their behavior. They're on notice."

The surest way to defend America, he stressed, "the surest way to make sure our children grow up in a peaceful and free society, is to be relentless of those who would harm Americans, those who hate freedom and bring them to justice."

Bush acknowledged that military service involves sacrifices by service members and their families. He singled out one one unit, calling them the "quiet professionals."

"You perform with daring and dedication," he told members of the Air Force 16th Special Operations Wing, assigned to nearby Hurlburt Field. "You made an impression on the enemy. You've given the terrorists around the world their first glimpse of their fate.

The president said it makes him feel good to be the commander in chief of people who train hard and who have performed with success and honor.

"History has called us to action and we will not stop until the threat of global terrorism has been destroyed," the president vowed.

"In the months and years to come, our nation will be asking much of the Air Force and every branch of our military," Bush concluded. "You have my confidence, because you've earned it. You earn it every day in the difficulties you accept and the dangers you face. You're each here to serve your country, and your country is grateful. You're here because you believe in America, and America believes in you."

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Remarks by the President to the Service Personnel, Eglin Air Force Base, Fl., Feb. 4, 2002

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