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Los Angeles Times

Bush Visits Army Hospital, Praises Troops

Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush offered praise and prayers today for U.S. troops fighting in Fallouja, as he and First Lady Laura Bush visited an Army hospital to meet with soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bush, in his first public remarks on the two-day assault against hard-core insurgents holed up in the western Iraqi city, said coalition forces were doing battle with terrorists intent on "trying to stop the march of freedom" in the Middle East.

"We've got troops in harm's way in the Fallouja areas right now, and our prayers are with the soldiers and their loved ones as they're doing the hard work necessary for a free Iraq to emerge," the president told reporters after his visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

"Coalition forces are now moving into Fallouja to bring to justice those who are willing to kill the innocent, those who are trying to terrorize the Iraqi people and our coalition, those who want to stop democracy," Bush said. "And they're not going to succeed."

About 11,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops are participating in the assault on an estimated 3,000 insurgents in Fallouja, according to the Pentagon. At least three U.S. soldiers were killed today in the offensive, military officials said. The U.S. death toll in Iraq since the beginning of the war in March 2003, has topped 1,100.

"We are forever grateful to the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said earlier today.

The president and first lady spent about two hours at the Army hospital, visiting 42 soldiers wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. It was Bush's sixth trip to meet with troops and family members there, McClellan said.

"Every time I come to Walter Reed I'm struck by the courage and bravery of our men and women who wear the uniform," the president said afterward. "... It's so uplifting to see their spirit, their drive to become rehabilitated, their love of the country, their support of the mission."

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