Bush: New Year to Build on 2005 Progress in Terror War
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2006 The new year will build on 2005's progress in the war on terror, President Bush said at the Pentagon today after meeting with his national defense team and top military leaders overseeing operations in Iraq.
During today's Pentagon meeting, the president met with Vice President Dick Cheney; Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and three top Army generals supporting the war on terrorism: Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command; Gen. George W. Casey Jr., commander of Multinational Force Iraq; and Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, commander of Multinational Security Transition Command Iraq.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also attended, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad participated by videoconference.
Bush praised the caliber of the generals overseeing the war effort as smart, capable and visionary, and told reporters he had assured them that his administration will do everything in its power to support their efforts and bring terrorists to justice.
Much of today's discussion focused on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
2005 was a year of progress toward the strategy for victory in Iraq, Bush said, with three successful elections demonstrating a viable political progress at work. "The formation of a unity government is going to be important to the stability of the future of Iraq," he said.
American people will see the political progress unfolding in the weeks ahead, decisions being made based not on "who's got the biggest gun, but who's got the capacity to rally the will of the people," Bush said.
Similarly, Afghanistan is moving steadily on the road to democracy, he said. "President (Hamid) Karzai got elected. There's a sitting parliament," Bush said. "It's amazing how far Afghanistan has come from the days of the Taliban."
As the political process moves forward, coalition forces will continue working with both countries to build strong army and police forces, the president said.
Iraq's security forces, which now number more than 215,000, proved their mettle providing security for the Dec. 15 elections, he said.
"Numbers are one thing, but the ability to perform is another," Bush said. "And during these elections, the Iraqi troops showed our commanders on the ground and showed the American people that they're becoming more and more capable of performing their duty to provide security to the Iraqi people."
Bush said he expects the Iraqis to take increasing control of the battle space in 2006, which means fewer U.S. combat troops will be required to conduct combat operations around the country.
Already, commanders in Iraq have determined that they can reduce U.S. forces in Iraq from 17 to 15 brigades, he noted. "And the reason they were able to do so is because the Iraqis are more capable," he said.
This adjustment will bring force numbers several thousand below the pre-election baseline of 138,000 troops in Iraq. It comes in addition to a reduction of about 20,000 troops who were in Iraq to support security during the elections, he said.
As fewer U.S. troops are required for combat operations, more will be dedicated to training and supporting the Iraqi units, the president said.
Much of the focus in 2006 will be on helping the Iraqis prove their logistics and intelligence capabilities so more Iraqi units can take the fight and sustain themselves in that fight, he said. This is a key toward the ultimate goal of standing down U.S. forces and returning them home, he said.
But Bush reiterated that his decisions about force numbers in Iraq will be based on conditions on the ground and recommendations of the U.S. commanders there, not political timetables.
In Afghanistan, nearly 27,000 Afghan National Army soldiers are trained and equipped and some 55,000 Afghan police officers are on the beat, forming an ever-improving security force there, the president said.
The international community is stepping up, to boost its contribution to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force this year from 9,000 to about 15,000 troops, Bush said.
As NATO takes on a larger role in Afghanistan and the country's own forces grow in capability, the United States will reduce its forces in Afghanistan this year, from 19,000 to 16,500, he said.
As this happens, the United States will maintain its support for anti-terrorism efforts in both countries and around the world, he said.
"There's a lot of work to be done in this war on terror," the president said, vowing to complete the mission.
"We'll do our duty to protect this country by not only bringing justice to an enemy that wants to do us harm, but by spreading freedom and democracy," he said.