US President George W. Bush speaks from
Brendan Smialowski  /  AFP - Getty Images
President Bush on Thursday defends keeping U.S. troops in Iraq. He said he respects the intentions of those who call for a swift U.S. withdrawal from Iraq but declared: "Their position is wrong."
updated 9/22/2005 1:53:44 PM ET 2005-09-22T17:53:44

Two days before a major anti-war demonstration, President Bush said Thursday that withdrawing American forces from Iraq would make the world more dangerous and allow terrorists “to claim an historic victory over the United States.”

Bush said terrorists have been emboldened over the years by the hesitant U.S. response to numerous events: a hostage crisis with Iran in the Carter administration, the bombing of U.S. Marines barracks in Lebanon during the Reagan administration, the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center during the Clinton administration, and others.

“The terrorists concluded we lacked the courage and character to defend ourselves,” the president said. “The only way the terrorists can win is if we lose our nerve and abandon the mission.

“For the safety and security of the American people, that’s not going to happen on my watch,” he said.

Bush spoke at the Pentagon after receiving a briefing on the global war on terrorism, focusing mainly on Iraq and Afghanistan. He was updated by Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq, and Gen. John Abizaid, the commander of U.S. Central Command, who spoke via a secure video conference. Vice President Dick Cheney joined the president.

Sheehan to lead anti-war rally Saturday
Bush acknowledged that there are differences of opinion about Iraq and that some want the United States to withdraw to escape more violence. Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, who camped outside Bush’s ranch during August, is to lead an anti-Iraq war rally Saturday that organizers hope could draw tens of thousands of people.

“I recognize their good intentions but their position is wrong,” the president said. “Withdrawing our troops would make the world more dangerous.”

He said a pullout would embolden U.S. adversaries and allow Jordanian-born terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden “to dominate the Middle East and launch more attacks on America and other free nations.”

Bush acknowledged the loss of American lives in Iraq — more than 1,900 dead — and said “we’ll honor their sacrifice by completing the mission and winning the war on terrorism.”

The president said Iraqi forces are making progress toward taking responsibility for their country’s security. They are increasingly taking the lead in joint operations with U.S. forces and “showing the vital difference they can make,” the president said. Moreover, he said Iraqi troops are remaining behind and keeping cities safe after military operations have cleaned out terrorists.

Blaming Syria
The president said anew that Syria is not doing enough to prevent terrorists from entering Iraq. “We’re getting limited cooperation” from Damascus, the president said.

Bush said that in Iraq, “The battle lines are drawn and there is no middle ground.”

“If we fail that test, the consequences for the safety and security of the American people would be enormous,” the president said. “Our withdrawal from Iraq would allow the terrorists to claim an historic victory over the United States.”

On Afghanistan, Bush said 18,000 U.S. troops serving there have not yet finished their mission.

His comment appeared to be at odds with President Hamid Karzai, who on Tuesday challenged the need for major foreign military operations in Afghanistan, saying his government does not believe there is still a “serious terrorist challenge.” Karzai said airstrikes are no longer effective and that U.S.-led coalition forces should focus on rooting out terror bases and support networks.

Fighting for Afghanistan's democracy
Bush said, “The international community is helping Afghanistan become a lasting democracy. There are still terrorists who seek to overthrow the young government.

“You see, they want to return Afghanistan to what it was under the Taliban. A miserable place — a place where citizens have no rights, women are oppressed, and the terrorists have a safe haven to plan and plot attacks. And that’s why coalition forces and our special forces and Afghan forces are conducting precision raids against high-value targets in southeastern Afghanistan.”

The head of the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan said Thursday that Taliban rebels will keep fighting well into next year even though they have suffered heavy losses in recent battles. Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya’s comments came amid the fiercest fighting in Afghanistan since U.S.-led forces invaded in late 2001, with more than 1,200 people killed in the six months leading up to Sunday’s historic legislative elections.

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