President Bush praised U.S. troops here Thursday as "a credit to the United States of America" for serving their country on the tense Korean peninsula.

Standing in front of an American flag and a bleacher full of soldiers in fatigues, Bush said the fight against terrorism will demand even greater sacrifice from the military, U.S. allies and Americans back home. He told the troops that the duties they perform in South Korea are every bit as essential to eradicating terrorism as those being carried out now by U.S. forces in the hills of Afghanistan.

"People are safe from harm because you're here," Bush said. "You're a credit to the United States of America, and I want to thank you for that."

Wearing a camouflage jacket like those of the soldiers around him, Bush said he owed them much as their commander in chief. He emphasized the $48 billion increase in military spending that he is seeking from Congress in fiscal 2003, saying that sum — the largest such request in 20 years — reflects his desire to give U.S. troops the finest equipment, a much-needed pay raise and other improvements.

"It recognizes the price for defending freedom will be high, but it's necessary to defend freedom," Bush said.

While Bush has stressed that he does not plan war with North Korea, he said he also has no intention of lowering the American profile on the Korean peninsula, now sectioned off between communist North and democratic South by a huge demilitarized zone.

American soldiers stationed in this region, he said, have an obligation to fulfill the legacies of "thousands of soldiers who fought for freedom in the Korean War, and all who've kept the peace for half a century."

"In our dealings with North Korea, we've laid down a clear marker. We will stand by the people of South Korea," he said. "We will maintain our presence here."

The president's remarks drew loud cheers and broad smiles from the sea of soldiers congregated before him, flanked by parked F-16 and F-15 fighter jets and U-2 spy planes.

"We must not stop. After all, we defend civilization itself," Bush said. "We didn't ask for this war. We're a peaceful nation. But we'll do everything in our power to defend freedom and the universal values that are so important to our nation and to a peaceful world."