- The Washington Times - Monday, October 26, 2009

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. | President Obama, hours after holding a sixth meeting in the last month of his war council at the White House, told a crowd of 3,000 Navy sailors and Marines that he will not rush his decision on a strategy for the war in Afghanistan.

In an image that will boost the president being criticized by former Vice President Dick Cheney for “dithering,” Mr. Obama appeared in front of an enormous American flag and three rows of Navy sailors in dress whites. He spoke to a large crowd in a hangar at Naval Air Station Jacksonville.

“While I will never hesitate to use force to protect the American people or our vital interests, I also promise you this — and this is very important as we consider our next steps in Afghanistan: I will never rush the solemn decision of sending you into harm’s way,” Mr. Obama said.

“I won’t risk your lives unless it is absolutely necessary. And if it is necessary, we will back you up to the hilt,” he said. “Because you deserve the strategy, the clear mission, the defined goals, as well as the equipment and support you need to get the job done … That is a promise that I will always make to you.”

Earlier in Washington, Mr. Obama met with his top military and civilian advisers to review strategy in Afghanistan. The president still has given no signal whether or not he plans to increase troops beyond the 68,000 already there, or whether he’ll make a decision before the Nov. 7 runoff election in Afghanistan.

The crowd here was enthusiastic in its reception of the president, though there were pockets of soldiers that appeared more reserved and gave only paltry applause.

Mr. Obama’s remarks were full of nods to past missions performed by the Navy and other branches of the military. The president gave a nod to the Navy SEALs who conducted the operation in April to rescue an American sea captain from Somali pirates.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the speech was “a chance to say thank you.”

Mr. Obama met with Gold Star families, the relatives of U.S. soldiers killed in the line of duty, before his speech.

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