JACKSON – Gov. Haley Barbour said Tuesday from Baghdad that he was honored to greet U.S. soldiers serving there, including members of the 155th Brigade Combat Team.
Visiting the troops, he said, “is a great thing for me or any other governor.”
Barbour spoke to members of the Mississippi media from Baghdad on Tuesday via conference call. He was invited to visit Iraq by the Department of Defense because more than 3,500 members of the Tupelo-based 155th are serving a second tour in the war zone.
Barbour is in Iraq along with the governors of Georgia, Wyoming and Oregon. Each state’s largest National Guard unit is currently deployed in Iraq.
During the conference call at 11 p.m. Baghdad time, Barbour said it is an honor to thank the soldiers “on behalf of the people of Mississippi and tell them how proud Mississippi is of them.”
Barbour, who will be on the trip for Veterans Day today, said he and first lady Marsha Barbour have visited with the families of Mississippi National Guard soldiers who were killed in Iraq and with soldiers who have been injured.
“Their attitude blows me away because these are people who are badly injured,” the Republican governor said. “Their attitude is they are proud they got to serve their country, proud of what they did… Overall, their refrain is they would like to go back, to protect.”
Barbour is making his second trip to Baghdad. He calls his 2005 trip at Thanksgiving when the 155th also was deployed “the nicest Thanksgiving I ever spent” serving the soldiers their holiday meal.
Barbour said it was much worse in Iraq then than it is now. But he said it got much worse after he left before the situation improved, thanks in large part to the military surge that then-President George Bush enacted.
“The surge has completely changed the complexion of the war in Iraq…,” he said. “Clearly this is totally different than two years ago. The number of attacks on Americans has plummeted, gone way down.”
Barbour said he believes the core of American combat forces will be able to leave next year as President Barack Obama has promised.
On another military front, Barbour, who has been mentioned as a presidential candidate, said he supports increasing the number of soldiers in Afghanistan by about 40,000 as recommended by military leaders there. Obama currently is deciding how to pursue the war in Afghanistan.
Barbour said he believes the troop buildup there could have the same successful impact as the surge did in Iraq.
But Barbour said that if Obama decides differently, he would not criticize him. He said he does not think that is the role of a governor.
Contact Bobby Harrison at (601) 353-3119 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal