By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 3, 2007 - The military surge into Iraq is working, President Bush told troops today during a surprise visit here. The president said he came to Anbar province so he could see the success in the war on terror and thank the men and women who are making sacrifices for that success.
Bush, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace, and U.S. Central Command chief Navy Adm. William Fallon flew in to meet with Army Gen. David Petraeus, Multinational Force Iraq commander, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker.
The president also met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki and Iraqi President Jalal Talibani.
The president told the more than 700 servicemembers assembled in the morale, welfare and recreation center at this sprawling base that he is "incredibly proud to be the commander-in-chief of such a great group of men and women."
The soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen in the audience gave the president a rousing welcome. Calls of "Hooah" came from the soldiers and "Oorah" from the Marines, many of whom have had multiple deployments to the region.
"I want to tell you this about ... my decision about troop levels," the president said. "Those decisions will be based on a calm assessment by our military commanders on the conditions on the ground – not a nervous reaction by Washington politicians to poll results in the media."
The president said he will order redeployments from Iraq "from a position of strength and success, not from a position of fear and failure."
Their service in Iraq is making the United States more secure, Bush told the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines, some of whom had waited four hours for the president to appear.
Bush highlighted the results of the "Anbar Awakening" and other progress as a result of the surge of five brigades of U.S. soldiers into the country.
He told the servicemembers that the Sunni tribesmen, who once fought side-by-side with al Qaeda in Iraq, are now fighting side-by-side with coalition troops against al Qaeda.
"Anbar is a huge province," Bush said. "It was once written off as lost. It is now one of the safest places in Iraq, because of your hard work."
The president credited the bravery and sacrifice of U.S. servicemembers for denying al Qaeda a safe haven to plot and plan and carry out attacks against the United States. The sacrifice in Iraq makes America safer, Bush told the servicemembers.
The work is not done, Bush said.
"The surge of operations that began in June is improving security throughout Iraq," he said. "The military successes are paving the way for the political reconciliation and economic progress the Iraqis need to transform their country."
Once secure, Iraqis can concentrate on building a stable, civil society with functioning local, provincial and national governments. "That's important, because a free Iraq, an Iraq that's an ally against these extremists and murderers will be a major defeat for the terrorists," Bush said.
Reconciliation cannot be forced on the Iraqis, they must do it themselves, the president said.
"Earlier today I met with some of the tribal sheiks here in Anbar," he said. "It was a really interesting meeting. And at the table were the leaders of the central government, as well. They told me that the kind of bottom-up progress that your efforts are bringing to Anbar is vital to the success and stability of a free Iraq."
Iraq needs stability to build a better future, he said, "and America needs this stability to prevent the chaos that allows the terrorists to set up bases from which they can plot and plan attacks on our homeland.
"If we don't want to hear their footsteps back home, we have to keep them on their heels over here," he said.
"That's exactly what you're doing," he told the troops, "and America is safer for it."