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MacDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. (AP) -- President Bush on Wednesday praised efforts of U.S. troops against "ruthless enemies" in Iraq.
"The world has witnessed the skill and honor and resolve of our military in the course of battle," the president said at the headquarters of Central Command, the nerve center of prewar military planning.
"I can assure you there will be a day of reckoning for Iraq, and that day is drawing near," Bush said too loud applause.
Flanked by dozens of uniformed military personnel, Bush said, "We've seen their daring against ruthless enemies and their decency to an oppressed people. Millions of Americans are proud of our military, and so am I."
"I'm honored to be the commander in chief," he said, his voice cracking with emotion.
Bush spoke before receiving a classified military briefing at the headquarters of the Central Command, whose top general, Tommy Franks, is running the war against Iraq from a forward headquarters in Qatar.
He also was having lunch with troops. His breakfast came with a diplomatic dig at French resistance to war: The menu aboard Air Force One listed "stuffed Freedom Toast," instead of French toast.
Bush's visit comes at a time when U.S. and British forces began to suffer battle casualties. Nine Marines were killed Sunday in an ambush, and Army helicopters encountered fierce resistance during an attack Monday on Republican Guard units protecting the approaches to Baghdad. One helicopter went down and its two-man crew was captured.
The turn of events in Iraq was reflected in a new poll by the Pew Research Center that showed just 38 percent of the public said the conflict was going well on Monday, down from 71 percent on Friday.
The first bodies of fallen American servicemen came back to the United States on Tuesday.
Blinding sandstorms plagued the American-led advance on Baghdad. Some helicopters were grounded by the weather and combat aircraft taking off from the USS Harry Truman returned a few hours later without dropping bombs on their targets.
Bush spoke hours before meeting at Camp David with principal war ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The British leaders was spending the night at the presidential retreat. The leaders planned a news conference Thursday.
Bush has not traveled within the United States since Feb. 20, a period in which he oversaw final preparations for battle and also a last-ditch effort to win U.N. backing for the war.
Central Command is responsible for U.S. military operations in 25 countries, from the Horn of Africa and the Persian Gulf to Central Asia.
It is also overseeing Operation Enduring Freedom -- the military's name for the global war on terrorism.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)