President Bush offered praise and prayers Tuesday for U.S. troops fighting in Fallouja as he and First Lady Laura Bush visited an Army hospital to meet with military personnel wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Bush, in his first public remarks on the two-day assault against insurgents holed up in the western Iraqi city, said coalition forces were doing battle with an enemy intent on “trying to stop the march of freedom” in the Middle East.
“We’ve got troops in harm’s way in the Fallouja area 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, and those who are trying to terrorize the Iraqi people and our coalition, those who want to stop democracy,” Bush said.
About 15,000 U.S. and Iraqi troops are participating in the assault on an estimated 3,000 insurgents in Fallouja, according to the Pentagon.
The U.S. death toll in Iraq has topped 1,100 since the war began in March 2003. More than 8,000 members of the military have been wounded, according to the Pentagon.
The president and first lady spent about two hours at the Army hospital, visiting 42 troops wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom and in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. It was Bush’s sixth trip to meet with troops there, White House Press Secretary Scott 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 told reporters.
The Bushes met with recovering troops and family members, including one family whose service member was in surgery. All of the patients were from the Army or Marines, and at least two were women, the White House said.
“Laura and I spent time with the moms and dads and husbands and wives of those who are wounded, and I was struck by just the patriotic sense that they have and ... their strong support for their loved ones,” Bush said.