U.S., British Defense Chiefs: Now is Time to Stand Firm
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 6, 2006 Iraqi and coalition forces and politicians must stay the course as democracy takes root in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. and British defense chiefs said in a Pentagon news conference today.
"This is a time for holding firm and holding our nerve in Iraq, a time for the politicians in Iraq to do that, to come together in a government of national unity, and a time for the multinational forces and those politicians who support the Iraqi democrats to do that as well," British Secretary of State for Defense John Reid said. "In other words, as the terrorists seek, by their own barbaric methods, to divide inside Iraq and divide us outside of Iraq, our response should be to hold firm and give maximum unity inside Iraq and maximum unity outside it."
Rumsfeld said the United States and Britain understand "the dire consequences" should terrorists take control of Iraq or Afghanistan. "Terrorist havens in those countries would lead to more terrorist recruitment, fundraising, training and more attacks on our people," he said.
Rumsfeld acknowledged the volatile situation in Iraq, but noted the country has seen much progress as well. "We've unearthed the mass graves of Saddam Hussein, and he's been placed on trial," he said. "The Iraqi people have defied terrorist threats and successfully had two elections and a referendum on the new constitution, each time with still larger turnouts."
In addition, Rumsfeld said, more than 250,000 Iraqi security forces are trained, equipped and taking part in operations.
"Tens of thousands of British, American and coalition soldiers have been fighting the violence and dealing with the situation in that country with a great deal of courage and professionalism," he added. "They've done so with determination; they've done so with a volunteer spirit and with few precedents in history. And they and their families can be enormously proud of what they are accomplishing; they are making our world safer and free."
Reid, who had visited Iraq and met with leaders there 10 days ago, said he is convinced Iraqis have the will to build a multiethnic government. He said the only way to respond to terrorists' efforts to derail democracy through violence is to unite in a cooperative effort.
"That would be a huge signal not only to the outside world, but to those brave people of Iraq who, through bullets and death and destruction and massacres and threats, have turned out in greater number to exercise their democratic rights, to signal their commitment to democracy, than even the people of the United Kingdom or the United States in our big elections."
Reid noted coalition forces have much the same priorities in Afghanistan: to help the fledgling democracy through its infancy. Coalition countries need to "see thorough the job we have set ourselves, which is to ensure that country will never again fall back into the clutches of the Taliban and terrorists and become a launch pad for the sort of terrorist attacks that you know well here in Washington."
The United Kingdom has been the United States' staunchest ally in the war on terrorism, and British troops provide leadership for Multinational Division Southeast in Iraq. Roughly 8,000 British troops are serving in Iraq, and more than 100 British servicemembers have died there. In addition, Britain announced in January that it would commit 3,300 troops to support NATO's planned expansion in Afghanistan.