By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
March 20, 2008 - President Bush praised the performance and courage of U.S. troops engaged in the global war on terrorism while discussing Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa during a Pentagon Channel interview yesterday. Video "I'm most proud of the performance of our troops," Bush told Air Force Master Sgt. Erin Roberts on the day that marked the five-year anniversary of the start of Operation Iraqi Freedom. "We have asked a lot of our military and the military families. We've got men and women who have been to both theaters in the war on terror multiple times, and that's a strain, and it's hard, and I understand it is."
Bush said he believes the troops know that their efforts and sacrifices are necessary to safeguard the United States against its enemies. Accordingly, Bush said, he is intent "on making sure that we do not allow the sacrifice that has gone on over the last five years to go in vain."
Now is the time to make the difficult decisions, he said, that will assist the Iraqis in establishing a free, stable and peaceful society in the often-troubled Mideast.
Bush said he's "pleased with the progress" made in Iraq, as surge-fortified U.S. and Iraqi forces have al Qaeda insurgents on the run across the country.
Prosecuting the global war on terrorism has been hard on the U.S. military and family members, Bush acknowledged, noting he is "proud of the fact that the military has been so steadfast and courageous" in the face of adversity.
Bush said he realizes when he visits with wounded troops or comforts families who've lost loved ones during the war that victories won against terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan didn't come without personal cost.
The president said he's heartened when wounded troops tell him they can't wait to get back into the fight.
"It's just so inspiring to me, but (it) also has got to change the perspective of their family a little bit," Bush said.
It's paramount for wounded U.S. servicemembers to receive the best medical care available, Bush emphasized, noting he believes that they are getting the best care.
Visiting families of deceased military members, Bush continued, is another commander in chief responsibility that's a very emotional experience. Those meetings "can be very tearful," Bush said, adding he's "not afraid to hug a mom or hug a wife or hug a husband and cry."
Bush said nearly all of the bereaved families he meets tell him not to abandon the war because of public opinion polls or politics.
"And, I assure them that they don't have to worry about that about George W. Bush," the president declared. Bush said he gains comfort from the "strength and courage and great love of country of these folks."
Turning to the situation in Afghanistan, Bush noted that the war-torn country has made progress since U.S. and coalition forces deployed for Operation Enduring Freedom kicked Taliban Islamic radicals out of power in early 2002. And, the roads, schools and other important infrastructure being built across the country, he said, will help improve the quality of life for all Afghans.
However, the Taliban haven't been totally defeated, Bush acknowledged.
"They keep coming back – and an enemy such as this gets defeated when two things happen," Bush said. First, he said, the insurgents need to be pressured, caught and brought to justice. Second, living conditions in Afghanistan must be elevated, Bush explained, to provide Afghans with positive life options in contrast to the Taliban's message of hate and violence.
The Taliban will continue to be a negative factor in Afghanistan, Bush predicted, "until a civil society develops that provides hope for the Afghan people."
Although the Taliban remain active, they are not winning the war in Afghanistan and they can't defeat U.S., Afghan and NATO forces on the battlefield, Bush pointed out. The United States is sending more than 3,000 extra Marines to Afghanistan to bolster the 47,000 NATO forces already there, including 19,000 American troops.
"So, we've got work to do" in Afghanistan, Bush said. However, he added, the United States has considerable help there.
"There're a lot of NATO troops – some of whom fight, some of whom don't fight, but all of them make a contribution," Bush said. Some NATO-member nations have sent forces to Afghanistan under caveats, or conditions of utility that govern how their forces are used.
Bush said he plans to attend next week's annual NATO summit conference in Bucharest, Romania, where he will ask members to increase their force-level contributions in Afghanistan.
"I'll of course be urging our allies to bolster their presence in Afghanistan," Bush said, noting the time has come to deal with the Taliban, once and for all. The Taliban aren't ever going to change their stripes, Bush pointed out, and it's a misplaced hope that they'll eventually "become better citizens of the world."
Commenting on his recent trip to Africa, Bush said he spent time assuaging leaders' concerns about U.S. Africa Command, based in Stuttgart, Germany. "There's some nervousness about the Africa Command in Africa," Bush said, "because nations don't want U.S. troops stationed on their border."
During his talks with African leaders, Bush said, he explained that AFRICOM is a different type of military organization that would "help Africans deal with African problems."
"We want well-trained African troops going into places like Sudan, helping the poor folks there, who are being brutalized by thugs, to be able to survive and thrive," he said.
The United States recognizes Africa's importance in world affairs, and that's why AFRICOM was created, Bush said. Terrorists and criminal enterprises recruit new members from populations that experience hopelessness due to unceasing warfare, epidemic disease, famine, and economic destitution, the president said.
"Hopelessness is the only way radicals can recruit, and therefore, we have programs to deal with malaria and HIV/AIDS and hunger," Bush explained.
"But, the other source of instability on the continent of Africa is civil unrest," Bush said, that can flame into widespread civil war.
It is in America's interest "that we help Africans deal with those problems," Bush pointed out. "That's what Africa Command is meant to do."