Thank you very much. Thank you so much. Please be seated.
General Johnson, thank you so much for your hospitality. Marines, Soldiers, I'm told there's some SEABEEs, some Navy folks here --
How about Airmen?
I guess there's contractors and civilians and some other folks.
I did want, as General Johnson said, to be here today to personally recognize the superb job you folks are doing. It is noted across the world, and it's appreciated, and certainly I want to tell you, each of you, how grateful we are for your service, your sacrifice, and for your commitment to a truly historic cause.
And to tell you how grateful your country is to you. Also your families and loved ones. And how proud the American people are of what you are achieving here.
Consider where we are today. The Fallujah of not that long ago was a symbol of rejection of the new democratic Iraq.
Difficult days lie ahead to be sure, but the Fallujah today has:
· Some of the highest voter registration and turnout rates in the country,
· Has increasingly capable and competent Iraq security forces in the streets helping to maintain order and hunting down terrorists.
Fallujah is a place where the old adage about the U.S. Marines certainly fits: "No better friend, no worse enemy." So I congratulate you for what you are accomplishing here. It's important.
Consider as well what's happening across Iraq. Last week, the world watched with admiration and respect the Iraqis who defied threats to write a new chapter in the history of freedom. Last week's election -- with the surprisingly strong turnout across the country -- even in this area, is still another step forward for the Iraqi people.
I certainly congratulate General Casey and the very strong military team that we have here in Iraq, for their capable leadership in assisting the Iraqi government and the Iraqi Security Forces in achieving the third successful election in less than one year.
This month's election is, I think, the latest mark of progress in Iraq as they build a free and democratic nation, a nation that can protect the rights of all Iraqis and defeat the terrorists.
If you think about it, what held this country together was repression, vicious repression that fill mass graves with hundreds of thousands of bodies of men, women and children. That's how order was maintained in this country.
The Iraqi people now have written a constitution, they've ratified the constitution -- a piece of paper that is going to substitute for that repression. It is going to be that thing which will assure all of the people of this country their rights and their protection against each other and an opportunity for them and their families.
The success we've had has been noted, and at the recommendation of our military commanders and in consultation with our Coalition partners and in consultation with the Iraqi government, President Bush has authorized an adjustment for U.S. combat brigades in Iraq from 17 to 15. The size and composition of the U.S. forces of course will fluctuate as commanders continue to shift their focus to emphasize training and supporting the Iraqi security forces. This will include some increases in U.S. forces involved in transition teams, intelligence support and logistics to assist the security forces as they continue to assume greater responsibility for the security of their country.
Effecting these adjustments will reduce U.S. forces in Iraq by the spring of 2006. It will lower the high, the current high of roughly 160,000 during the election period when it was bulked up, also below the 138,000 baseline that had existed prior to the most recent election.
However, as the President has stated, force level decisions are condition-based and will continue to be condition-based.
They'll have been and will continue to be determined by assessment of Iraq's progress, by U.S. military commanders on the ground and will include such factors as:
· The ground capability and effectiveness of the Iraqi Security Forces, its leadership and its organization,
· The continuing handover by Coalition forces of security responsibility to the Iraqis, and the
· Continued political and economic progress in the country.
The President has spoken about progress on the political, economic, and the security fronts. On the basis of that progress, General John Abizaid, the CENTCOM Commander, and General George Casey, the Iraq Commander, have recommended the force level adjustments that we're initiating today. They will continue to monitor the situation closely and continue to consult with the Iraqi government and with our Coalition partners in the coming months, and they'll make recommendations as appropriate.
Assessments, as I say, will be made periodically depending on circumstances on the ground. Our force levels will continue to fluctuate somewhat during force rotations, such as the rotation which we're now beginning.
The adjustments being announced are the recognition of the Iraqi people's progress in assuming greater responsibility for their country. It's also a recognition of your success in helping the Iraqi people build a better future.
Let me be very clear: the challenges ahead -- military, political, and economic -- will not be easy. As the President has said, our forces will be available to help the Iraqi people establish their new democracy. The United States, as you all know better than any, did not come to Iraq for oil, we did not come to occupy this country. We came here only to help.
So as we go forward, the Coalition will continue to transfer responsibility for security operations to the Iraqi Security Forces and place more emphasis on supporting those forces through training, support activities and counter-terrorist operations.
U.S. and Coalition military leadership is trying to keep a proper balance between having a military footprint so large -- large enough to help the Iraqi people win their fight against the terrorists, but not a footprint so large and so intrusive as to antagonize a proud and patriotic people or to discourage the Iraqi people from taking initiative to run their own country themselves.
Coalition leadership is continuously assessing that balance in consultation with the Iraqi government.
We anticipate future Coalition force level discussions at some point in 2006, after the new Iraqi government is in place and is prepared to discuss their future. And we will be consulting with our Coalition partners as well.
Violence in Iraq, unfortunately, as you well know, will likely continue to ebb and flow as terrorists and others continue to try to block Iraq's path to democracy -- a path now clearly chosen by the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people.
Ultimately, it will be the continued wise choices by the Iraqi people that will end the violence in Iraq over time.
After watching millions of Iraqis line up to vote last week, many of them dancing in the street holding up purple-stained fingers with understandable pride, it's clear that the vast majority of this country is invested in the new democratic future for Iraq. It is also increasingly clear that our strategy for victory here is winning. It's working.
These achievements would not be possible were it not for you, and the support of your families back home.
The holiday season, of course, is a time when Americans reflect on families and friends, and on what's most important in our lives. We might also reflect on what a very special, decent and generous people Americans are.
It's the time of year to protect our way of life and to keep America that special place. The place where millions of people look to in times of danger and tragedy -- the country to which millions more, at great risk, to themselves have crossed oceans and deserts to seek refuge.
It is my honor, and indeed the honor of my life to work with those of you who defend that "American dream" during this time of peril for our country. I've seen countless Soldiers and Sailors and Airmen and Marines undertake grave duties, with courage, with determination, and in the same moment render acts of kindness and compassion to others.
I've marveled at the "grit" of the grievously wounded who have lost limbs, but are determined to get back in the fight. Needless to say, we've all shared the grief of those whose loved ones have returned for a final tribute to their grateful country.
The strength of our military -- your strength and that of your families -- is truly amazing. It's extraordinary. And it never fails to give me strength, and encouragement and indeed inspiration for the tasks ahead. So I thank you for that. I thank you for being who you are, and I thank you for doing what you do for all of us........
You are amazing folks and I am so grateful to you.
The holiday season is a period when of course you'll be connecting with your families and friends; you'll have a chance to do what we talked about here and tell them what you think and what you're accomplishing and how you feel about the world and what your hopes and expectations are here. As long as you keep doing that and you keep telling the truth and you keep doing the truly spectacular job you're doing, our country is going to be in great shape.
So Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah and God bless you.
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