Cheney Thanks U.S. Troops for Iraq Service

Vice President Dick Cheney makes a surprise stop in Iraq to meet with U.S. troops at an air base northwest of Baghdad. In his first trip to the country since the war, Cheney thanked troops for their service. The visit came hours before President Bush is to address the nation in a speech from the Oval Office.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Vice President Dick Cheney made a surprise stop in Iraq today, hours before President Bush is to make a special address to the nation on the war. The vice president was supposed to be headed for five other nations in the region, and reporters brought along on the trip had no idea they were bound for Baghdad until well into their flight. The vice president spoke to troops at Al-Asad Air Base west of Baghdad.

Vice President DICK CHENEY: I happened to be in the neighborhood, so I thought I'd drop by.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Vice Pres. CHENEY: We're a long way from Washington, and I can't imagine being in better company than I am right now. I've come with a message from home: Americans are grateful for your service, we support your mission and we're proud of each and every one of you.

ELLIOTT: One of the journalists traveling with Cheney is NPR White House correspondent David Greene, who joins us from the nation of Oman, where the vice president spent Sunday night.

Hello, David.

DAVID GREENE reporting:

Hi, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: So this is the vice president's first visit to Iraq since the war. Why now?

GREENE: Well, his aides say this is something he always wanted to do, come here and visit the troops on the ground, and that they were just looking for the right time. It's interesting to think that he came to southern Iraq as Defense secretary in 1991, but before this trip, he'd never actually seen Baghdad. His aides say the trip was no coinciding with the president's speech tonight, the prime-time address on Iraq, but nothing happens in this White House without an eye to the message. The president's going to talk about how he thinks there's been progress in Iraq. I'm sure they were hoping for some television images coming back of Dick Cheney touring Iraq. It was safe enough for him to be there and hearing about the situation on the ground to go along with the speech.

ELLIOTT: Now the president has always said he'll take the advice of military commanders on the ground when it comes to troop levels there. Did the vice president hear from those commanders today?

GREENE: He did. He held meetings with military officials in the US ambassador's home. He met with General John Abizaid, who heads the US Central Command, and with General George Casey, the commander of US forces in Iraq. And Cheney told reporters that he was pleased with the progress that he'd heard about, progress training Iraqi security forces, and that he heard that things were peaceful for the election. Of course, we had some violence today that changed that, but he said he got a good report.

ELLIOTT: He also met with troops in a roundtable-type discussion. What did they want to know from the vice president?

GREENE: Well, it was interesting, Debbie, because the first one who asked a question was a gentleman named Corporal Bradley Warren, and that was at the base where the vice president gave the speech. And he got right to the point. He said, `We don't see much as far as gains. We're looking at small-picture stuff, not many gains. I was wondering what it looks like from the big side of the mountain, how Iraq is looking.' And it put Cheney in a tough spot, and his first reaction was, `It's hard sometimes if you just look at the news to have the good stories burn through.' And it was an interesting task to be telling a soldier on the ground that he shouldn't be looking at the news; I don't think that's what the soldier was asking about.

Then the vice president said, from the standpoint of the president, there's been a lot of progress. But it goes to show that the reports the vice president was talking about getting from his military commanders, not necessarily what the troops on the ground are seeing.

ELLIOTT: That's NPR's David Greene in Muscat, the capital of Oman.

Thank you, David.

GREENE: A pleasure, Debbie.

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