- The Washington Times - Friday, December 24, 2004

From combined dispatches

MOSUL, Iraq — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld flew into Mosul today in a surprise visit to lift troop morale at Christmas after a deadly attack and following criticism that he had not shown sufficient concern for their welfare.

“I am deeply grateful to all of you. You will look back in 10 or 20 or 30 years and know you were a part of something very important,” Mr. Rumsfeld told a gathering of about 200 troops at the U.S. military base in Mosul.

“I respect you. I wish you all a Merry Christmas,” he said.

Mr. Rumsfeld told the troops that he remained confident of defeating the insurgency and stabilizing Iraq, while conceding that to some “it looks bleak.”

“There’s no doubt in my mind, this is achievable,” Mr. Rumsfeld told soldiers of the 1st Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division at their commander’s headquarters, formerly a palace for dictator Saddam Hussein.

“When it looks bleak, when one worries about how it’s going to come out, when one reads and hears the naysayers and the doubters who say it can’t be done, and that we’re in a quagmire here,” one should recall that there have been such doubters “throughout every conflict in the history of the world,” he said.

After landing in Mosul in darkness, Mr. Rumsfeld walked immediately from his plane to visit staff and patients at the 67th Combat Surgical Hospital, which handled the casualties from Tuesday’s suicide bombing. The attack killed 18 Americans, mostly service members, three Iraqi soldiers and the bomber himself.

During the brief stop at the hospital, the defense chief presented a Purple Heart medal to Sgt. Chris Scott, who was wounded a day before the bombing. The most seriously wounded already had been transferred to a U.S. military hospital in Germany.

Mr. Rumsfeld also thanked the hospital’s staff for their work in treating the dozens of wounded from Tuesday’s lunchtime attack at the mess tent, located near the base’s airfield.

Out of concern for security, Mr. Rumsfeld’s aides went to unusual lengths to keep his visit a secret prior to his arrival, with only a few reporters and one TV crew accompanying him on an overnight flight from Washington.

In an interview aboard the C-17 cargo plane that brought him to Mosul, Mr. Rumsfeld said he had planned to visit U.S. troops here long before Tuesday’s attack.

In introducing Mr. Rumsfeld to his troops at Task Force Olympia headquarters, Brig. Gen. Carter Hall expressed gratitude for what he described as an outpouring of Christmas cards and other expressions of thanks and condolences from people across the United States since Tuesday’s attack.

“It has been truly heartwarming,” Gen. Hall said.

In his prepared remarks to Gen. Hall’s soldiers, Mr. Rumsfeld alluded to Tuesday’ attack and said he was inspired by the spirit shown by the wounded. He said he had visited other wounded troops at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington on Wednesday.

“It’s amazing, what they say, how they feel about the work that’s being done out here,” he said.

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