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THE NATION

Troop morale still high, Bush says

The president doesn't believe redeployments to Iraq are taking a toll.

February 15, 2007|Peter Spiegel | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush said Wednesday that he did not believe morale of troops in Iraq had declined because of repeated deployments to the war zone, saying his commanders on the ground would have informed him if any problems existed.

The issue of troop morale has bubbled up repeatedly during the debate on Capitol Hill over legislation that would criticize the administration's decision to increase troop levels in Iraq. Some backers of the Bush plan say any congressional resolution condemning the buildup would undermine morale.

The issue also emerged in surveys of active-duty troops, whose opinion of Bush's handling of the war has plummeted in the last year. Among military personnel, only 35% approved of Bush's handling of the war during 2006, down from 54% a year earlier, polls by the independent Military Times newspaper found.

But speaking at a White House news conference, Bush said that though commanders were concerned about how soldiers' families were bearing up under the strain of deployments that have seen soldiers in combat zones one year out of every two, no mention had been made of any problems within military units.

"What I hear from commanders is that the place where there is concern is with the family members," Bush said. "Our troops who have volunteered to serve the country are willing to go into combat multiple times, but [their] concern is with the people on the home front."

Asked whether those who opposed his buildup of troops were undermining morale, Bush said he did not believe so.

"I think you can be against my decision and support the troops, absolutely," Bush said. "Somebody who doesn't agree with my policy is just as patriotic a person as I am."

peter.spiegel@latimes.com

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