By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 9, 2008 - The United States will continue to reduce its troop strength in Iraq, but will increase its footprint in Afghanistan, President Bush said here today. The president accepted the recommendations of military leaders to reduce U.S. troop levels in Iraq by 8,000 through January. If security conditions continue to improve in the country, further reductions will be possible, Bush said at the National Defense University.
Bush also announced plans to deploy a Marine battalion to train Afghan National Army troops in November and to send an Army brigade to Afghanistan in January. The 10th Mountain Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team had been scheduled to deploy to Iraq.
Bush said security progress in Iraq is responsible for the reduction. The progress is an outgrowth of the success of the surge, launched Jan. 10, 2007, that fed five U.S. Army brigades, a Marine Expeditionary Unit and two Marine battalions into Iraq through June 2007. Bush called the reductions the "return on success" strategy. That strategy calls for reducing American combat forces in Iraq as conditions on the ground continue to improve.
"The reduced levels of violence in Iraq have now been sustained for several months," Bush said. "While the progress in Iraq is still fragile and reversible, [Army] Gen. [David H.] Petraeus and Ambassador [Ryan C.] Crocker report that there now appears to be a 'degree of durability' to the gains we have made.
"Over the next several months, we will bring home about 3,400 combat support forces – including aviation personnel, explosive ordnance teams, combat and construction engineers, military police and logistical support forces," Bush continued. "By November, we will bring home a Marine battalion that is now serving in Anbar province. And in February 2009, another Army combat brigade will come home.
"This amounts to about 8,000 additional American troops returning home without replacement," the president said. "And if the progress in Iraq continues to hold, General Petraeus and our military leaders believe additional reductions will be possible in the first half of 2009."
An example of the progress occurred last week in Ramadi, when coalition forces turned over control of Anbar province to elected Iraqi leaders.
"Iraqi forces are now leading security operations across Anbar, with American troops in an overwatch role," Bush said. "With this transfer of responsibility, the people of Anbar took charge of their own security and their own destiny. It was a moment of pride for all Iraqis – and a moment of success in the war on terror."
In 2006, Anbar was the most dangerous place in Iraq. Al-Qaida terrorists were in control of almost every major population center, and the province was a safe haven allowing the terror group to plan, train, re-fit and finance terror operations in other parts of the country. "A military intelligence report concluded that the province was lost – and Anbar was held up as proof of America's failure in Iraq," Bush said.
But al-Qaida's campaign of brutality and murder to intimidate the people backfired. The surge brought in 4,000 more Marines that proved the U.S. commitment to Iraq. "Together, local tribes, Iraqi troops and American forces systematically dismantled al-Qaida control across the province," Bush said.
Attacks in the province have dropped by more than 90 percent, and casualties are down dramatically. The government is up and running, and American provincial reconstruction teams are helping local leaders create jobs and economic opportunity, Bush said.
"And as security has improved, reconciliation is taking place across the province," he said. "Today, Anbar is no longer lost to al-Qaida. It has been reclaimed by the Iraqi people."
The security progress in Anbar has been mirrored all over Iraq, with Iraqi security forces in the lead. Iraqi soldiers and police have cooperated and launched operations against extremist groups in Basra, Baghdad, Amarah, Mosul and Diyala province. "All of these operations are Iraqi-led, with American forces playing a supporting role," Bush said.
Violence in Iraq is down to its lowest point since the spring of 2004, and civilian deaths are down. Sectarian killings are down, suicide bombings are down, and normal life is returning to communities across the country, Bush said. The Iraqi government is making political progress and has passed several major pieces of legislation.
The progress has allowed the United States to pull out the surge units, reduce tour lengths for Army troops from 15 months to a year and shift forces once slated for duty in Iraq to Afghanistan, the president said.
The people of Afghanistan will benefit most from the security progress in Iraq, Bush said. The Taliban and its al-Qaida allies have regained strength and are using the tribal areas of Pakistan as safe havens. American troops who were scheduled to deploy to Iraq will deploy to Afghanistan beginning in November. This will make the "quiet surge" of NATO forces into Afghanistan a bit louder, the president said.
Additional troops have deployed to Afghanistan from the United Kingdom, France, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Australia, Germany, Denmark and the Czech Republic. The United States increased its presence in Afghanistan by 3,500. The number of trained Afghan Army and police forces has increased from less than 67,000 to nearly 144,000.
"These troop increases have made a difference, yet huge challenges in Afghanistan remain," Bush said. "As we learned in Iraq, the best way to restore the confidence of the people is to restore basic security – and that requires more troops."
More American units will deploy to Afghanistan in the coming months, the president said.
"In November, a Marine battalion that was scheduled to deploy to Iraq will instead deploy to Afghanistan," Bush said. "It will be followed in January by an Army combat brigade. The mission of these forces will be to work with Afghan forces to provide security for the Afghan people, protect Afghanistan's infrastructure and democratic institutions and help ensure access to services like education and health care."
Even as reinforcements arrive in Afghanistan, the United States and its allies will work to double the size of the Afghan National Army over the next five years, Bush said.
"The Taliban and al-Qaida will not be allowed to return to power," Bush said. "The terrorists will suffer the same fate in Afghanistan that they are now suffering in Iraq. They will be defeated."
Terrorists also are operating in Pakistan and must be dealt with, Bush said. "These extremists are increasingly using Pakistan as a base from which to destabilize Afghanistan's young democracy," he said. "And in the past year, the Taliban, al-Qaida and other extremist groups operating in these remote regions have stepped up their attacks against the Pakistani government itself, hoping to stop that country's democratic progress as well."
These groups threaten Pakistan's government, and defeating these terrorist and extremists is also Pakistan's responsibility, "because every nation has an obligation to govern its own territory and make certain that it does not become a safe haven for terror," Bush said.
The United States and its allies will continue to work with Pakistani officials to defeat the extremists, Bush said.
Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are all theaters in the same overall struggle, the president noted.
"In all three places, extremists are using violence and terror in an attempt to impose their ideology on whole populations," Bush said. "And in all three places, America is standing with brave elected leaders, determined reformers, and millions of ordinary citizens who seek a future of liberty, justice and tolerance."
military progress is being made, the president said, but defeating the enemy will require victory in the ideological battle. "We must show the people of the broader Middle East a better alternative to a life of violence and despair, and that alternative is freedom," he said.
Much remains to be done, Bush said, and he acknowledged that tough times are ahead.
"Yet, we can have confidence in the outcome," he said. "With faith in the power of freedom, we will transform nations that once harbored our enemies into strong and capable allies in the war on terror. With faith in the power of freedom, we will prove that the future of the Middle East belongs not to terror, but to liberty. And with faith in the power of freedom, we will leave behind a safer and more peaceful world for our children and grandchildren."