WASHINGTON– The United States will maintain its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan as part of its offensive strategy to defeat global terrorism, Vice President Richard B. Cheney told American Legion members in Phoenix today.

“We’re going to keep our commitments to Afghanistan and Iraq, as we have pledged to do,” Cheney vowed during his address at the American Legion’s annual convention.

The United States has been on the offensive against global terrorists since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Cheney said, noting America would not “sit and wait to be hit again.”

And “for the sake of our freedom and security, we must not relent until this enemy is destroyed,” Cheney said.

The years-long U.S. military campaign against terrorism, Cheney said, has been “a hard-fought, difficult, challenging enterprise.” However, the success of Gen. David H. Petraeus’s surge-of-forces strategy, Cheney said, has greatly damaged and disrupted insurgent operations in Iraq, enabling Iraqis to enjoy a level of security they’ve not had in years.

“We’re gathering better intelligence, because now the Iraqis are less afraid to pass along tips about where enemy fighters are hiding, and where they keep their weapons,” Cheney said of the results of the surge. Al-Qaida in Iraq “is substantially degraded, running out of sanctuaries, losing the fight,” Cheney pointed out.

The success of the surge, Cheney continued, “has given Iraq’s elected leaders the breathing room to pass new reforms, and they’ve stepped up to their responsibilities.”

Meanwhile, U.S. and coalition troops continue to train up Iraqi soldiers and police, Cheney said. The improving Iraqi security forces, he said, “are able to lead more and more operations on their own.”

Success in Iraq also has enabled the U.S. military to reduce combat tours there from 15 months to 12 months, Cheney said.

“We’ve brought home all five of the combat brigades and the three Marine units who were sent into Iraq as part of the surge,” Cheney said. “Further troop movements will, as always, depend on what is happening on the ground.”

Cheney saluted the performance of America’s servicemen and women in the war on global terrorism.

“I’ve had no greater privilege than the chance to work with members of the American armed forces,” the vice president said. “I believe that if anyone lacks for inspiration in the war on terror, they need look no farther than the men and women who do the fighting.

“Whether it’s on cold mountain peaks in Afghanistan or the hot dusty streets of Iraq, they have been magnificent,” Cheney said of America’s servicemembers. “And, a new generation of warriors is the next chapter of American ingenuity, bravery and valor.”

Cheney recalled the bravery and self-sacrifice of Army Pvt. Ross McGinnis, who was killed in Baghdad in late 2006. McGinnis threw himself upon an enemy hand grenade to protect his fellow soldiers. Cheney described McGinnis, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, as “one of the bravest men in our history.”

The United States, Cheney said, was founded on the principles of liberty, justice and equality. The American military has served to preserve those values at home and abroad.

“We have served those principles, and sacrificed for them, to the far corners of the Earth,” Cheney said. “We have thrown back tyrants, stood watch on the frontiers of freedom, and defended the weak against the violent.”

The United States sent its military to Afghanistan and Iraq to help people in need, Cheney emphasized.

“We’ve done all this, not for glory or empire, but for freedom – because we know that the spread of freedom makes our world safer, and brings us closer to the peace we all desire,” Cheney said. “In the process, we’ve received more than our share of criticism, and we can take it.”

The world “is a better place because of the power, the influence, and the values of the United States of America,” Cheney said.

The United States is “blessed with the finest military any nation has ever fielded,” Cheney pointed out. “And, may we never take them or their families for granted.”

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