US Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday told US soldiers who were newly returned from Iraq that they had built "bonds of friendship" with Iraqis that may help win the war.
"Having been on the ground, all of you know that we've made progress -- not easily, but steadily. And we can be confident going forward," he told thousands of soldiers of the storied 101st Airborne Division at their home base at Fort Campbell.
With just 22 days before key elections in which the unpopular war in Iraq may cost Republicans control of the US Congress, Cheney again rejected setting a precise timetable for bringing US forces home.
And, at a time when some US political leaders are worried about public opinion polls showing simmering Iraqi anger at the US occupation, Cheney said US soldiers were actually winning over Iraqi support.
"Members of our military have worked diligently to make sure that more Iraqi families have police protection, and electricity, and water and sanitation for their homes," he said.
"By your openness and your decency, by your honor and your kindness to others in thousands of interactions, you've built bonds of friendship that are very important to our two countries," Cheney said.
As he spoke, soldiers rubbed gloved hands together and stamped their feet to keep warm in a steady drizzle of icy autumn rain that shined off an Apache helicopter and several armored vehicles equipped with rocket launchers.
They cheered his appearance onstage but mostly kept quiet at the politically tinged lines in his speech -- like the refusal to set a timetable for withdrawal -- and erupted in applause and cheers when he gave the distinguished flying cross to a helicopter pilot wounded in Iraq.
Most of the division returned from Iraq on Sept. 25 after a year-long deployment. About 4,000 are still there.
Cheney later travelled to Louisville for a fundraiser expected to net more than US$100,000 for Republican Representative Geoff Davis and Kentucky Republicans in general.
In the run up to next month's election, Cheney has done 114 events that have raised more than US$40 million for Republicans, according to Republican National Committee spokeswoman Tracey Schmitt.