- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 31, 2010

FORT BLISS, Texas | Speaking to troops Tuesday ahead of his evening address to the nation, President Obama said even though all combat troops are leaving Iraq, the U.S. mission there isn’t over, and he asked the country to unify behind his own troop-escalation in Afghanistan.

Mr. Obama was at Fort Bliss to thank troops personally for their sacrifice and valor in helping topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and quell sectarian violence.

But he also warned that “there’s still a lot of work” to be done in Iraq and that more sacrifices will be needed as U.S. troops “start taking the fight to the terrorists” in Afghanistan.

“It is going to be a tough slog, but what I know is that after 9/11, this country was unified in saying we are not going to let something like that happen again,” he said of Afghanistan. “We are going to go after those who perpetrated that crime, and we are going to make sure that they do not have safe haven.”

U.S. troops have fulfilled their agreement with Iraq, signed in the waning days of the Bush administration, to remove combat troops by the end of August, and the White House has spent the last few days highlighting the accomplishment.

The president will deliver an address from the Oval Office later Tuesday, but he said it is “not going to be a victory lap.”

Mr. Obama opposed President George W. Bush’s 2007 troop surge that is credited with helping create the space needed for political leaders to settle some differences, and even voted for a resolution disapproving of the escalation.

The White House says the president never doubted the ability of the troops to help improve security.

Republicans said Mr. Obama has had to essentially embrace Mr. Bush’s plans and the work of his generals, including .

“By adopting the Bush administration’s plan for winding down the war and transitioning security responsibilities to the Iraqi military over time the president has enabled us and the Iraqis to build on the gains our troops have made,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said in a speech to the Lexington Public Policy Luncheon.

Mr. Obama called Mr. Bush Tuesday morning from Air Force One, White House aides said, though they declined to give details of the conversation.

About 50,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq to continue training Iraqi security forces and conducting anti-terrorism missions, and Mr. Obama stressed to the troops that the U.S. remains fully engaged.

Still, the problems seem to be more political than anything else. In recent months, Iraq’s politicians have been unable to form a new government and some analysts fear the country could return to chaos.