FORT BRAGG, N.C. (AP) — President Bush said yesterday that insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan are violent yet vulnerable and urged U.S. troops to march on in the fight for freedom so Americans can celebrate Independence Day year-round.
At an outdoor pep rally for troops at Fort Bragg, Mr. Bush recalled the air strike last month that killed Abu Musab Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq. The U.S. success boosted troop morale and offered hope to Americans weary of the war.
“At this moment of vulnerability for the enemy, we will continue to strike their network,” Mr. Bush told 3,500 U.S. troops and others at an outdoor speech at Fort Bragg, home of the 82nd Airborne Division. “We will disrupt their operations, and we will bring their leaders to justice.”
Since Zarqawi’s death, Mr. Bush said, U.S.-led coalition and Iraqi forces have launched more than 190 raids on targets throughout the country, captured more than 700 enemy operatives and killed 60 more. Members of Fort Bragg’s special-operations forces were among the first coalition troops to arrive on the scene of the bombing of Zarqawi’s safe house, Mr. Bush said.
“They administered compassionate medical care to a man who showed no compassion to his victims,” the president said to the troops, who greeted him with shouts of “Hoo-ah.”
“When this brutal terrorist took his final breath, one of the last things he saw was the face of an American soldier from Fort Bragg, North Carolina.”
The outlook was less optimistic in Baghdad.
Gunmen in camouflage uniforms kidnapped Iraq’s deputy electricity minister, Raed al-Hares, and 11 of his bodyguards. The kidnapping occurred three days after gunmen seized a Sunni female legislator in eastern Baghdad. She and seven bodyguards are still missing.
In his talk, Mr. Bush made a veiled jab at some Democrats who have called for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. He said that setting a timetable for pulling out troops would undermine a fragile new Iraqi government, undercut the efforts of U.S. troops and signal to the enemy that if they wait a little longer, American forces would leave Iraq.
“This moment, when the terrorists are suffering from the weight of successive blows, is not the time to call retreat,” he said.
Mr. Bush thanked the soldiers for their service and recognized the more than 2,500 members of the U.S. armed forces who have died since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003.
“On this day when we give thanks for our freedom, we also give thanks to the men and women who make our freedom possible,” Mr. Bush told the troops, perspiring in muggy, hot holiday weather. “You are serving our country at a time when our country needs you. And because of your courage, every day is Independence Day in America.”