President Bush paid bedside visits yesterday to five soldiers seriously injured in Afghanistan, and thanked them for their service and sacrifice as he prepared for a possible conflict in Iraq.

Bush called the soldiers, recovering from shrapnel injuries and broken bones at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, "incredibly brave" and "five of America's finest citizens."

Bush and first lady Laura Bush went room to room visiting with the five, whose injuries were not life-threatening.

Bush, who has threatened war against Iraq if it does not give up suspected weapons of mass destruction, said afterward that the visit gave him "a chance to tell them how much we appreciated their service to America" and thank some of their parents, who were "anxious about the fate of their child."

Nearly 50 U.S. troops have been killed in the Afghanistan operations, and about 200 others wounded, according to Pentagon figures.

Among those Bush met was a staff sergeant whose left arm was amputated after he was injured while trying to disarm a rocket-propelled grenade during training late last year. He also suffered fractures of his right arm, right leg, face and skull.

Another soldier received knee, eye and heel injuries in an enemy grenade attack in Kabul.

The soldiers came to Walter Reed after being treated at an army medical center in Germany.