Gates Arrives in Baghdad for Talks With Military, Iraqi Leaders
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
BAGHDAD, Dec. 20, 2006 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived here today on a surprise pre-Christmas visit to meet with troops, generals and Iraqi leaders in order to assess the situation on the ground.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates, right, prepares to board a C-17 to Iraq, just one day after he took the oath of office as the 22nd secretary of defense, Dec. 19, 2006. Gates is going to Iraq to meet with deployed troops, military leaders and key Iraqi government officials to help him assess the current situation and to prepare for the future. Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is accompanying Gates.
The secretary stressed he was on a fact-finding mission. After getting on a U.S. Air Force cargo plane yesterday -- barely 24 hours after taking the oath of office -- Gates said his goal for the trip is “to learn a lot.”
“The whole purpose is to go out and listen to the commanders, talk to the Iraqis, and see what I can learn,” he told reporters traveling with him.
Gates will meet with senior U.S. military commanders, servicemembers and diplomats, and with several Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, before returning to Washington with recommendations for President Bush on the way forward here.
During Gates’ Pentagon swearing-in ceremony Dec. 18, Bush said he was counting on his new defense secretary to provide him “the best possible advice and to help direct our nation’s armed forces as they engage the enemies of freedom around the world.”
At his Senate confirmation hearings and again at his swearing-in, Gates said Iraq would be at the top of his list of priorities. He has studied the situation in depth, most notably during his participation on the Iraq Study Group, which delivered its recommendations to Bush and Congress on Dec. 6.
During his swearing-in, Gates said he looked forward to hearing “honest assessments” from military leaders and “to having the benefit of their advice, unvarnished and straight from the shoulder, on how to proceed in the weeks and months ahead.”
“All of us want to find a way to bring our sons and daughters home again. But, as the president has made clear, we simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East,” Gates said. “Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility, and endanger Americans for decades to come.”