By Jim Garamone
Dec. 13, 2006 – Discussions on Iraq between President Bush and military and civilian leaders at the Pentagon today were "candid and fruitful," Bush said after the meeting. Outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, his successor Robert M. Gates, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff met with Bush and Vice President Richard B. Cheney in "the Tank," the room where the Joint Chiefs routinely meet. The men discussed a new way forward that will help the Iraqi government confront and manage problems within Iraq.
"We all agree it is in our nation's interest that we help (the Iraqi) government succeed," Bush told media members after the meeting. "We recognize there are enemies that would like to topple this young democracy so they could have safe haven from which to plot and plan attacks against moderate nations in the Middle East, as well as attacks against the United States."
Bush said the violence in Iraq has been horrific and that he is saddened by the loss of every life to this violence. U.S. personnel are paying the price, he noted, especially in Anbar province and Baghdad. "Our commanders report that the enemy has also suffered," Bush added. "Effective operations by Iraqi and coalition forces against terrorists, insurgents and death squad leaders have yielded positive results. In the months of October, November and the first week of December, we have killed or captured 5,900 of the enemy."
The enemy is far from defeated, the president said, but he stressed that the Iraqi government and coalition forces are taking the fight to the enemy.
In the midst of the strategic review the administration is undertaking, military operations are still taking place day and night in Iraq, the president said.
Bush also shared his thoughts on U.S. servicemembers. "The men and women in uniform are always on my mind," he said. "I am proud of them; I appreciate their sacrifices; and I want them to know that I am focused on developing a strategy that will help them achieve their mission."
He said troops pay attention the debate at home over the mission in Iraq. "They hear I am meeting with the Pentagon or the State Department or outside officials," the president said. "(They hear that) my national security team and I are working closely with Iraqi leaders, and they wonder what that means.
"It means that I am listening to a lot of advice to develop a strategy to help you succeed," he said.
Bush reiterated that he will tell the country what his changed strategy will be after due deliberation and that he wants Gates to have time to contribute to the discussion. Gates is scheduled to take office Dec. 18.
The United States remains committed to a strategic goal of a free Iraq that is democratic, and that can govern itself, defend itself and sustain itself, and be a strong ally in the war against radicals and extremists, Bush said.
"The troops deserve the solid commitment of the commander in chief and our political leaders and the American people," he said. "You have my unshakeable commitment in this important fight to help secure the peace for the long term."
Bush pledged to work with the new Congress to forge greater bipartisan consensus. "I will continue to speak about your bravery, your commitment and the sacrifices of your families to the American people," he said, in a message directly to the troops. "We're not going to give up. The stakes are too high and the consequences too grave to turn Iraq over to extremists who want to do harm to the American people."
Military members present at the meeting were Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, Vice Chairman Navy Adm. Edmund P. Giambastiani, Army Chief of Staff Peter Schoomaker, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Mullen, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley, and Marine Commandant Gen. James Conway.
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