Douglas makes surprise trip to Iraq

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas has made a surprise trip to Iraq to visit with Vermont National Guard troops.

Douglas says the Guard members are in good spirits because they feel Iraqi security forces are becoming more capable of fighting the insurgents.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Word of the governor’s trip to Iraq didn’t become public until Douglas’s day long visit was complete and his delegation was safely back in Kuwait.

Douglas is traveling with 3 other governors on this trip.

Douglas left Vermont on Sunday. He arrived in Kuwait on Monday and spent the night at a U.S. military base.

On Tuesday, he flew to Baghdad and then boarded a helicopter for Ramadi where the 172nd Armor Battalion of the Vermont National Guard is stationed. Douglas spoke about his trip with several reporters by satellite phone:

(Douglas) “I’ve talked with some of my colleagues who have visited Iraq and I felt that I wanted to go as well to see these men and women doing their jobs in the theater of operations where we send them to reassure them that they have the undivided support of a grateful state.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says Vermont Guard soldiers are optimistic about their mission because they believe the situation in Iraq is getting better:

(Douglas) “There’s been tremendous progress in transferring responsibility both in the armed forces and in police agencies to Iraqis we were told of several specific instances where the Iraqis handled situations on their own increasingly that seems to be the case general Casey’s suggestion that troop strength can be reduced further this year is an indication of that success.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he believes the war in Iraq has been worth the effort of the more than 2000 Americans who have died in the conflict- including 21 Vemonters:

(Douglas) “We’ve made a commitment. We’ve made a commitment to the people of Iraq and we have committed young men and women from all states including Vermont to fulfill their mission. They’re focused on it. They’re proud of what they’re doing. They’re good at what they do and we have a responsibility to complete this mission as quickly as we can and then get our young men and women home.”

(Kinzel) Douglas will remain in the Middle East for a few more days. His specific schedule hasn’t been released. He’s due back in Vermont late Friday.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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