WASHINGTON, DC—In an effort to display his administration's willingness to fight on all fronts in the War on Terror, President Bush said at a press conference Monday that American ground forces in Afghanistan will be aided by the immediate deployment of Marine Pfc. Tim Ekenberg of Camp Lejeune, NC.
"I want the American people to know that I have not forgotten that our battle for freedom began in Afghanistan, rooting out the extremists of al-Qaeda and the Taliban," Bush said. "Today, I am ordering the deployment of the 325th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, Private Tim Ekenberg, to the embattled Kandahar region."
"We will take whatever measures necessary to win," Bush added. "Isn't that right, Tim?"
Ekenberg is scheduled to arrive in Afghanistan on Friday. His duties include providing full military support for the still-tenuous democratic government, resolving potential conflicts between rival warlords, gathering intelligence for his superiors, delivering humanitarian relief to millions of Afghan citizens displaced by factional warfare, and maintaining a high level of personal physical fitness.
Ekenberg's most vital assignment, however, will be to patrol approximately 1,200 square miles of volatile territory on the Afghan–Pakistani border and conduct search-and-destroy missions on the estimated 40,000 caves where U.S. intelligence sources believe Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda operatives could be hiding.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, 2nd Lt. Jon Pinard, said that Ekenberg will be a valuable addition to his existing military assets.
"Our Marines are the best-equipped and best-trained in the world, and I have it on good authority that Tim is an especially well-trained Marine," Pinard said. "We have requested that he receive full logistical support while deployed in this theater. We've been told that his body armor will be arriving within six months of his reporting for duty, budget permitting."
"We welcome the 325th and have plenty of work for him over here," he added.
The troop surge also seemed to boost morale among the thousands of servicemen and -women already on the ground in Afghanistan, who said they hoped Ekenberg would relieve some of the psychological pressures of being outnumbered by unknown and unidentifiable combatants in a foreign land far from home.
"I can't tell you how great it will be to have someone riding with me in the APC," said Lance Cpl. Amy Patterson, the 117th Light Armored Division, referring to her M113 armored personnel carrier. "We were beginning to think America had forgotten about us. I'm glad to see I was wrong."
While reception of Bush's announcement was generally positive, a small number of Republicans accused the president of shifting much-needed funding away from active forces in Iraq, particularly the 11,000-member 212th Army Communications and Dietary Services Brigade, now stationed outside Tikrit.
Some prominent Democrats have expressed cautious support of Ekenberg's deployment. Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) applauded the Bush administration for "at least meeting [our] demands 1/20,000th of the way."
"This is where we should have been sending troops all along," Clinton said. "It's a promising sign that the president is finally willing to unleash on Afghanistan the full force and military might of the United States Marine Corps Private Tim Ekenberg."
Although the 325th is forbidden from disclosing specific details of the upcoming assignment, his father spoke to reporters from the brigade's childhood home in North Carolina shortly after Bush's announcement.
"Even if you disagree with our commander in chief, I ask that your prayers go out to Tim and that we continue to remember the sacrifices that are being made out there," Dean Ekenberg said. "Please, support our troop."