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Coble, Dole split on support for troop surge

By Scott Jenkins

Salisbury Post

Republicans representing Rowan County in the U.S. House and Senate split in their reaction to President George W. Bush’s plans to increase troop levels in Iraq.

In an address to the nation Wednesday night, Bush announced plans to add 21,500 troops to help secure key neighborhoods in the Iraqi capital and fight insurgents in the country’s Anbar Provence, which he called a base for the terrorist group Al Qaeda.

The president also said the U.S. would also expect greater participation from the Iraqi government and its security forces in efforts to quell violence and stabilize the country.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Dole, a Salisbury native, issued a statement saying that to win in Iraq, “it is clear that we need a new plan, as the president acknowledged this evening. I am encouraged that the president’s plan requires the Iraqis to play a much greater role in the stabilization of their country, and the plan is more comprehensive than simply increasing the number of U.S. troops.”

Dole said the “status quo in Iraq is not acceptable. Mistakes have been made, but I strongly believe that we can and must succeed. The current security and political situation in Iraq is difficult, but a precipitous withdrawal would guarantee defeat and would have catastrophic implications for the security of our country and the stability of the Middle East region.”

The senator said she is “inclined to support” Bush’s overall plan, which also makes economic revitalization and reconstruction higher priorities, but as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a legislator representing more than 100,000 North Carolina service members, she wants more details about specific missions they will be asked to perform “and how this new direction will get the job done, stabilize Iraq and allow our troops in harm’s way to return home.”

Rep. Howard Coble, who represents part of Rowan in Congress, does not support the plan. He was one of seven Republicans, including fellow North Carolina Congressman Walter Jones, to sign a letter earlier this week urging the president not to increase troop levels in Iraq.

Coble pointed out Thursday that he was first GOP House member to speak out two years ago “to indicate my concern that virtually nothing was being said about troop withdrawal.

“… I don’t profess to know as much as the president or the commanders on the ground, but it’s my firm belief that what we’re doing has not worked effectively and I don’t see assigning 22,000 more troops is going to make it work effectively,” he said.

Coble said he doesn’t see advocating troop withdrawal as a “cut and run” policy, as some critics of withdrawal have derisively called it. The U.S. has been in Iraq for four years, he said, and in that time has lost more than 3,000 troops and seen more than 35,000 injured, most permanently.

“After that commitment, I don’t believe leaving constitutes cutting and running,” he said. Coble stressed that he is not calling for a withdrawal by a specific date, but said, “It’s time to hand over the baton to the Iraqis.”

Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr issued a statement saying he supports a temporary surge in troop in strength in Iraq, “provided those troops are given a clearly defined mission and achievable military objectives.”

Burr said he visited Baghdad and Balad in September and “saw firsthand the need for security and stability in Iraq … I believe it is essential we first end the violence that has escalated in the streets of Baghdad if the Iraqi people are to live in peace and freedom.”

Contact Scott Jenkins at 704-797-4248 or sjenkins@salisburypost.com.

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