Bush defends military buildup as support for policy drops

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KENNEBUNKPORT (AP) – President Bush, who faces mounting congressional pressure to end the war, called Saturday for patience as U.S. forces conduct stepped-up operations in Iraq.

“We’re still at the beginning of this offensive, but we’re seeing some hopeful signs,” Bush said in his weekly radio address, in which he likened U.S. troops deployed around the globe to the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

“We’re engaging the enemy, and killing or capturing hundreds,” said Bush, who is losing GOP support for his decision in January to send 30,000 extra troops to Iraq to secure Baghdad and Anbar.

The president said two senior al-Qaida leaders were killed this week north of Baghdad and U.S. troops are finding arms caches at more than three times the rate of a year ago. Despite an upward trend in May, sectarian murders in the Iraqi capital are down from January, Bush said.

He said the last of the U.S. reinforcements just arrived in Iraq earlier this month.

The White House thought it had until September, when military commanders are to give an assessment of Iraq. But most senators now believe troops should start coming home within the next few months, and House Republicans are calling to revive the independent Iraq Study Group to give the nation new options.

“The fight in Iraq has been tough, and it will remain difficult,” Bush said.

He said the Fourth of July on Wednesday will be an opportunity to remember the nation’s founders as well as the more than 3,568 men and women of the U.S. military who have died in the Iraq war.

“We remember the spirit of liberty that led men from 13 different colonies to gather in Philadelphia and pen the Declaration of Independence,” said Bush, who plans to spend Independence Day with the West Virginia Air National Guard in Martinsburg, W.Va.

“Today, a new generation of Americans has stepped forward and volunteered to defend the ideals of our nation’s founding … They’ve helped bring freedom to the Iraqi people,” he said. “They’ve helped make Americans more secure. We will not forget their sacrifice.”

AP-ES-06-30-07 1121EDT

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