By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
May 23, 2007 – Newly declassified intelligence shows that terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was planning to establish Iraq as a new base to launch attacks against the United States, President Bush told U.S. Coast Guard Academy graduates today. In a commencement speech at the New London, Conn., academy, Bush said the intelligence information shows why the United States can't withdraw from Iraq prematurely.
Threats facing the United States are far from over, Bush said. Rather, Americans "are living in the eye of the storm," and dangerous winds of that storm "could meet our shores at any moment."
Intelligence information declassified yesterday shows that al Qaeda leader bin Laden in 2005 ordered the creation of a terrorist unit to hit targets outside Iraq, including the United States.
As part of that plan, bin Laden directed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al Qaeda in Iraq at the time, to form a cell to conduct such attacks outside Iraq.
"Bin Laden emphasized that America should be Zarqawi's No. 1 priority in terms of foreign attacks," the president said. "Zarqawi welcomed this direction (and) claimed that he had already come up with some good proposals."
Intelligence reveals that bin Laden then tasked Egyptian-born al Qaeda operative Hamza Rabia to assist by sending Zarqawi a briefing on al Qaeda's external operations, including information about operations against the American homeland, Bush said.
Thanks to U.S. and coalition cooperation, neither Rabia nor Zarqawi lived to carry out their missions. Rabia was killed in Pakistan in December 2005, and Zarqawi was killed by a U.S. air strike in June 2006, the president noted. "Successes like these are blows to al Qaeda," he said. "They're a testament to steps we have taken to strengthen our intelligence, work closely with partners overseas, and keep the pressure on the enemy by staying on the offense."
But, Bush emphasized, terrorists aren't easy dissuaded. "We face a brutal enemy," he said, noting that al Qaeda has "made it clear they intend to strike our country again."
He also noted two foiled terror plots: one, broken up in 2002, to fly a hijacked plane into the Library Tower in Los Angeles, and another, broken up the following year, to hijack planes and crash them into other U.S. targets.
Bush said "bold action here and abroad," ranging from myriad changes within the U.S. government to stepped-up partnerships around the world, has prevented these and other planned attacks on the United States.
"All these steps are making our country safer, but we are not yet safe," he said.
That's why the country has no choice but to go on the offense and stop terrorists on their own turf, he said. "To strike our country, the terrorists only have to be right once," he said. "To protect our country, we have to be right 100 percent of the time. And that means the best way to protect our people is to take the fight to the enemy."
Bush pointed to successes in Afghanistan, once a sanctuary for the Taliban and al Qaeda. Today, 40 nations, including all NATO members, are helping the new Afghan government defend its democratic gains, he said.
Similarly, the United States and its coalition partners are helping the Iraqi people build "a new democracy on the rubble of (former dictator) Saddam Hussein's tyranny," he said.
Their success is critical for the region and the world, he said. "Chaos could spread across the Middle East, and generations of Americans could be in even greater danger," he said.
Bush said he chose to send more troops to Iraq to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad -- rather than opting to withdraw -- to give the Iraqi government the chance it needs to succeed. "I decided to send more troops with a new mission: to help the Iraqi government secure their population and get control of Baghdad," he said.
The Iraqi government has a lot of work to do as this strategy is carried out, he said. "The Iraqi people must see that their government is taking action to bring their country together and give all of Iraq a stake in a peaceful future," he said.
These efforts are taking shape during "a pivotal moment in this battle," Bush said. "A lot of forces are trying to prevent this strategy from succeeding."
Al Qaeda is the most destructive of those forces, the president said. "Al Qaeda knows that a democratic Iraq is a threat to their ambitions to impose their hateful ideology across the Middle East," he said. "And al Qaeda knows that our presence in Iraq is a direct threat to their existence in Iraq."
Bush acknowledged that the fight in Iraq is tough, but said it's essential to U.S. security.
He dismissed comparisons of the situation in Iraq to the one the country faced Vietnam. "There are many differences between the two conflicts, but one stands out above all," he said. "The enemy in Vietnam had neither the intent nor the capability to strike our homeland. The enemy in Iraq does."
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