President Bush talks with sailors after landing in a small jet aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on Thursday off the California coast. Bush declared that major combat in Iraq was finished in a speech aboard the carrier Thursday night while the Lincoln steamed toward San Diego to end a record 10-month deployment.
J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE / Associated Press
Below: President Bush waves as he walks on the tarmac to a Navy S-3B Viking plane at North Island Naval Station in Coronado, Calif., on Thursday afternoon. Bush flew in the navigator’s seat to the deck of the carrier USS Abraham Lincoln.
DENIS POROY / Associated Press
Bottom: President Bush declares the end of major combat in Iraq as he speaks aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln off the California coast. The carrier will arrive in San Diego on Friday following a record 10-month deployment.
J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE / Associated Press
Bush declares combat over but says much work remains
ABOARD THE USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN -- President
Bush, aboard an aircraft carrier
homebound from war, said
Thursday night "the United
States and our allies have prevailed" against Saddam Hussein's Iraq and will confront any
other threatening nation suspected of terrorist ties.
"Major combat operations in
Iraq have ended," Bush said
from the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln, which launched
thousands of airstrikes on Iraq.
"The battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began
on Sept. 11, 2001, and still goes
Bush flew to the carrier on a
Navy jet and made a screeching
stop as his plane was snagged
by a cable stretched across the
deck. He changed out of his
flight suit to address thousands
of cheering Navy personnel
gathered beneath a banner that
read, "Mission Accomplished."
Struggling with his emotions,
Bush's voice broke as he called
the liberation of Iraq a crucial
advance in the campaign against
terror. "We have removed an ally of al-Qaida and cut off a
source of terrorist funding," he
said. "And this much is certain:
No terrorist network will gain
weapons of mass destruction
from the Iraqi regime because
that regime is no more."
He sought to give the nation
a closure to the fighting while
avoiding a sweeping claim of
overall victory. Bush said much
still needed to be done, including bringing order to the country, finding weapons of mass destruction, creating a democratic
government and pursuing leaders of the fallen regime, including Saddam.
Ridding Iraq of weapons of
mass destruction was the Bush
administration's main justification for going to war. So far, no
such weapons have been found.
An official declaration of victory could have triggered international laws requiring the speedy
release of prisoners of war, limiting efforts to go after deposed
Iraqi leaders and designating
the United States as an occupying power.
"Our mission continues," Bush
said. "Al-Qaida is wounded, not
destroyed. The scattered cells of
the terrorist network still operate in many nations, and we
know from daily intelligence that
they continue to plot against
free people. The proliferation of
deadly weapons remains a serious danger. The enemies of
freedom are not idle, and neither are we."
He reiterated his foreign policy principles, promising to target anyone who plans attacks
against the U.S. and any country
that supports terrorists.
While promising to be a "loyal
friend" to any nation that helps
his anti-terrorist campaign, Bush
said, "Any outlaw regime that
has ties to terrorist groups, and
seeks or possesses weapons of
mass destruction, is a grave
danger to the civilized world,
and will be confronted."
The president did not single
out any country, though the
White House has accused both Iran
and Syria of supporting terrorism. He
has dubbed Iraq, Iran and North Korea an "axis of evil."
The USS Abraham Lincoln, returning from the Persian Gulf, was about
30 miles from San Diego when Bush
landed. A former pilot, he got a turn
at the controls, flying about a third of
the way. Bush emerged in a green
flight suit, carrying his helmet, and
shouted to reporters, "Yes, I flew it!"
He said he had only steered the plane
"straight ahead" and wasn't tempted to
try to land it.
It was a made-for-television day sure
to be replayed during Bush's re-election campaign. With a wide grin, the
president lingered on the deck with
crew members, shaking hands and
posing for pictures. "Good job," he
shouted to sailors.
Later, in his address, Bush received
his loudest ovation when he spoke of
the sailors returning home.
"Being stuck at sea for nine and a
half months, you start to wonder
what's going on in the heads of the
people above you," said Petty Officer
2nd Class Richard Modicus. "This
shows we're not forgotten."
The president's speech marked the
end of combat in Iraq and a refocusing on the ailing economy at home.
With the shores of California in
sight, Bush said dangerous work also
remains in Afghanistan. Hours earlier,
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said major combat had ended in
that country, where U.S. troops had
routed the Taliban months ago.
"In the battle of Afghanistan, we destroyed the Taliban, many terrorists,
and the camps where they trained,"
he said. "We continue to help the Afghan people lay roads, restore hospitals and educate all of their children.
Yet we also have dangerous work to
"And as I speak, a special operations task force, led by the 82nd Airborne, is on the trail of terrorists, and
those who seek to undermine the free
government of Afghanistan. America
and our coalition will finish what we
began," he said.
"We are helping to rebuild Iraq,
where the dictator built palaces for
himself instead of hospitals and
schools for the people. The transition
from dictatorship to democracy will
take time, but it is worth every effort."
The president cast the Iraq war as
but one phase of the overall fight
"From Pakistan to the Philippines to
the Horn of Africa, we are hunting
down al-Qaida killers," he said.
The speech comes as Bush's advisers seek to convert his wartime popularity into political gain in the run-up
to the 2004 presidential elections.
"The war on terror is not over, yet
it is not endless," Bush said. "We do
not know the day of final victory, but
we have seen the turning of the tide."
The Lincoln, which was commissioned in 1989 by Vice President Dick
Cheney, then defense secretary, was returning from a 10-month deployment,
the longest ever by a nuclear-powered
Its aircraft dropped nearly 1.2 million
pounds of ordnance on Iraq, about 40
percent of the firepower that U.S. carriers and their jets rained down.
The president was spending the night
in the quarters that the ship's captain
usually uses when the carrier is in port.
Overnight, the carrier was heading
close enough to its San Diego destination that Bush could take a helicopter
back to land on Friday morning.