WASHINGTON (NNS) -- Major combat operations in Iraq are over, and America and her allies have prevailed, President George W. Bush said May 1 on the flight deck of a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier.
"In this battle we have fought for the cause of liberty and for the peace of the world. Our nation and our coalition are proud of this accomplishment," Bush said aboard the deck of USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72), as the sun set on the Pacific Ocean. "Yet it is you, the members of the United States military, who achieved it. Your courage, your willingness to face danger for your country and for each other made this day possible.
"Because of you, our nation is more secure," the commander in chief said to cheering Sailors. "Because of you, the tyrant has fallen and Iraq is free."
With a huge red, white and blue banner declaring "Mission Accomplished" hanging in the background, Bush told the crew that the American military's precision, speed and boldness led to "one of the swiftest advances of heavy arms in history."
Lincoln has been at sea for 10 months. She was ready to head home after duty in the Afghan theater during Operation Enduring Freedom, when the ship and her 5,000-member crew were turned around to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. The longest deployment in recent memory, Bush called it.
The president had flown out to the carrier at sea earlier in the day aboard a Navy jet. Emerging from the co-pilot's seat in a military flight suit, he gained the admiration of many of the Sailors for his tailhook landing aboard the ship.
He delivered "a special message" to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Army Gen. Tommy Franks - the leader of coalition forces in Iraqi Freedom - and for all American servicemembers: "America is grateful for a job well done."
Bush also thanked coalition countries, particularly Britain, Australia and Poland - who all contributed military forces - and the Iraqi people who welcomed American troops.
In a stirring speech punctuated by shouts of support and prolonged ovations, Bush compared the current conflict to the terrible battles of World War II that destroyed entire cities, while leaving the tyrants who started the fighting unharmed.
"For hundreds of years of war, culminating in the nuclear age, military technology was designed and employed to inflict casualties on an ever-growing scale. Military power was used to end a regime by breaking a country," he said. "Today, we have the greater power to free a nation by breaking a dangerous and aggressive regime. With new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve military objectives without directing violence against civilians."
Difficult work remains in Iraq, Bush noted. Coalition forces are working to bring order to all parts of the country, pursuing and finding leaders of the former regime, and are searching for weapons of mass destruction.
Coalition countries are also working to help rebuild Iraq. "And we will stand by the new leaders of Iraq as they establish a government of, by and for the Iraqi people," the president added.
He linked the "battle of Iraq" to the broader war on terrorism, calling it part of a larger war begun Sept. 11, 2001. "That terrible morning, 19 evil men, the shock troops of a hateful ideology, gave America and the civilized world a glimpse of their ambitions," Bush said. "By seeking to turn our cities into killing fields, terrorists and their allies believed they could destroy this nation's resolve and force our retreat from the world.
"They have failed," he added.
Operations in Afghanistan, the Philippines and the Horn of Africa are designed to hunt down al Qaeda operatives. "Nineteen months ago, I pledged that the terrorists would not escape the patient justice of the United States," Bush said. "And as of tonight, nearly one half of al Qaeda's senior operatives have been captured or killed."
He told the troops the war on terrorism isn't over, but it isn't endless, either. "We do not know the day of final victory, but we have seen the turning of the tide," he said. "No act of the terrorists will change our purpose or weaken our resolve or alter their fate. Their cause is lost. Free nations will press on to victory."
He said American troops never want to occupy foreign lands, because they just want to go home - just where the Lincoln is heading. The carrier will pull into port in San Diego early May 2. "Some of you will see new family members for the first time," Bush said, noting that 150 men aboard the Lincoln became new fathers while at sea.
But he did not forget the many servicemembers who will not be returning to their families after their duty in Iraq. "Every name, every life is a loss to our military, to our nation, and to our loved ones who grieve. There's no homecoming for these families, yet we pray, in God's time their reunion will come," Bush said. "Those we lost were last seen on duty. Their final act on Earth was to fight a great evil and to bring liberty to others."
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