28/11/2003

President Bush joins troops in whirlwind Iraq visit

President George Bush has made a surprise visit to US troops stationed in Iraq for impromptu Thanksgiving celebrations.

Coalition administrator Paul Bremer was finishing a speech to 600 troops at the start of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, when Mr Bush arrived for a whirlwind 2½-hour visit.

He told the assembled troops: "I was just looking for a warm meal somewhere. Thanks for inviting me. I can't think of a finer group of folks to have Thanksgiving dinner with than you all," he added.

"I bring a message on behalf of America: we thank you for your service. We're proud of you, and America stands solidly behind you.

"Together you and I have taken an oath to defend our country. You're honouring that oath. The United States military is doing a fantastic job."

He went on to tell the troops that, by helping to build a "peaceful and democratic country in the heart of the Middle East", they were defending the American people "from danger, and we are grateful".

He also restated the United States' commitment creating stability in the region.

"They hope we will run. We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost in casualties, defeat a brutal dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins to raucous, sustained whoops of approval from the service members," he said.

Mr Bush concluded: "I'm proud to be your commander in chief. I bring greetings from America. May God bless you all."

The president then posed for photos and helped serve up turkey to the troops.

The US president was back in the air by 8pm local time.

(gmcg)

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