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Troops Will Defend U.S. Interests, Gates Says

By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 26, 2007 – U.S. troops have always had the right to take action against anyone trying to harm them or civilians in Iraq, and will continue to do so, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

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Defense Robert M. Gates conducts his first roundtable meeting with the Pentagon press corps, Jan. 26. Photo by Helene C. Stikkel

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Gates was responding to a press report that a recent change in U.S. policy allows soldiers to use force against Iranians who threaten them inside Iraq, whereas before the policy was to hold them for a few days and then release them. The story was inaccurate, Gates said in a media roundtable at the Pentagon. He added that he is not aware of any change in authorization for U.S. forces to take action against foreign forces.

“Our forces are authorized to go after those who are trying to kill them, and we are trying to uproot these networks that are planting (improvised explosive devices) that are causing 70 percent of our casualties,” Gates said. “If you’re in Iraq and trying to kill our troops, then you should consider yourself a target.”

U.S. forces will not stand by while Iranians or anyone else brings IED materials into Iraq, Gates said. He stressed that the problem can be dealt with inside Iraq’s borders and that the U.S. has no intention of crossing into Iran to pursue any operations.

Echoing President Bush’s comments earlier today, Gates said that the main problems with Iran can be dealt with diplomatically. “What we’re trying to make clear to our friends in the region is that the United States has considered stability in the Persian Gulf region a vital interest for many years, and will continue to be for many years,” he said. “We intend to show through our military presence … that we intend to continue that presence as a means of providing reassurance to our friends and to let those who are not our friends know that they will have us to deal with if they choose to become aggressive.”

This morning, following a meeting with Gates, Joint Chiefs Chairman Marine Gen. Peter Pace, and Army Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who was confirmed today as commander of Multinational Force Iraq, Bush discounted speculation that defending against third-nation threats in Iraq indicates a desire to expand the war outside Iraq’s borders.

“That's a presumption that simply is not accurate,” the president said. “We believe that we can solve our problems with Iran diplomatically and are working to do that.”

At the Pentagon today, Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman cited instances of Iranians in Iraq found to have been involved in activities against the Iraqi government and coalition forces.

"U.S. military forces certainly are going to take action against anybody that’s breaking the law with the Iraqi government, irrespective of their nationality,” Whitman said. “We’ve made it clear in the past that Iran’s not being a good neighbor. We’ve had examples of specific instances where Iranians have been involved in activities that are not only meddlesome, but also destructive to the foundation and formation of the Iraqi government.”

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Robert M. Gates

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