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No Furloughs for Christmas, Gates Says

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21, 2007 – The $70 billion in emergency funds approved this week by Congress has sidestepped the need for the Army to send out furlough notices for now, but that money won’t last long, the Pentagon’s top official said today.

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Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Marine Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, listen to a reporter's question during a briefing at the Pentagon, Dec. 21, 2007. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Adam M. Stump, USAF

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

“There will be no furlough notices sent out in the holiday season,” Gates said. But, “absent timely congressional action in the new year, we will again face the risk of running out of money,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said at a news briefing.

“The department welcomes this step, however it is important to note that it represents only a partial solution,” he said.

Gates said officials are still analyzing the bill, but overall DoD received less than half of the president’s $189.3 billion request.

Above the $55.7 billion needed to continue fighting, the emergency appropriation will provide money for military pay and benefits, replacing and repairing combat equipment, and funds for Iraqi and Afghan security forces, according to DoD officials.

It will not, however, provide money needed to pay U.S. troops for the full year, and operating funds will run out again in the spring, officials said.

Gates said today that funding the department in “fits and starts” effects planning and puts procurement and training for deploying troops at risk.

“I only hope that next year we can all come together and move quickly to provide the remaining funds to troops,” Gates said.

On a more personal note, Gates acknowledged that the last-minute action to approve funding caused stress among the Defense Department work force.

“I realize and regret that in the last few weeks we have created anxiety and uncertainty for (the civilian work force). I hope we don’t have to face a replay of this situation again this spring. But they can rest assured this department treasures them and will not take any action affecting them unless it absolutely must,” Gates said.

This week is Gates’ one-year anniversary as secretary. In the briefing he discussed progress made through the year, and challenges ahead.

“The war is far from over, and we must protect and build on the gains earned with the blood of our military, our allies and our Iraqi partners,” Gates said.

In Iraq, 2008 could see as few as 10 brigade combat teams left in Iraq, Gates said. Plans are for the first five to return home by July. The first leaves the country this month.

If the security situation in Iraqi remains stable, five more could return home by the end of the administration, Gates said.

“My hope has been that the circumstances on the ground will continue to improve in a way that … will allow a continuation of the drawdowns at roughly the same pace as the first half of the year,” Gates said.

“That balance of the capacity of the Iraqi security forces to bear the security burden, the efforts and capacity of the provincial governments to provide services, and finally the ability of the national government -- all of these things are going to have to be weighed by Ambassador (Ryan C.) Crocker and General (David H.) Petraeus … when they make their recommendations to the president,” Gates said, referring to the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and the commander of coalition forces in Iraq.

Gates cautioned that any troop movements would be dependent on conditions in Iraq and based on recommendations by senior military commanders there. “It will be completely dependent on the circumstances on the ground,” he said.

Gates said the main challenges in Iraq will be sustaining this year’s security gains and encouraging legislative and economic progress in the region. While the performance of the Iraqi government ministries is somewhat uneven, Gates said, the Ministry of Finance is doing well, and macroeconomics in Iraq “look pretty good.”

Also, he said, much of the funding for provincial reconstruction is coming from the central government.

In Afghanistan, forces have inflicted heavy losses on the Taliban, launched a comprehensive reconstruction effort and strengthened civic institutions and security forces, Gates said.

But, Afghanistan remains threatened by ruthless extremists and destructive narcotics trade, he added. “NATO's efforts to rebuild and secure the country must be sustained and expanded into next year and beyond,” Gates said.

Gates said that some of the recent spike in violence in that country is due to operations in new areas. Forces have just recently taken control of the last town remaining under Taliban control.

He said challenges there included sustaining recent successes, hanging on to areas already cleared, creating conditions for further economic development, and adding capacity to the Afghan security forces. The secretary said that NATO was going to examine “more creative ways” for countries that are unable to provide combat troops to help. Some could help with funding or provide experts for reconstruction teams or provide police training in secured areas.

“We are going to try and be more creative in terms of finding ways for people to do more within the framework of the political realities of the different countries,” Gates said.

When questioned about the U.S. possibly adding more troops to the country, Gates said there is not a need for a large number of additional troops. Based on commander’s reported shortfalls in the country, the need would only be about 7,500 troops, with half of those serving as police trainers, he said.

“We will be looking at the requirements ourselves, and we will be talking with our allies. But there is clearly … no requirement for a substantial plus-up of forces in Afghanistan to accomplish (the) mission,” Gates said.

About 26,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan. More than 40 countries are supporting operations there, 39 of which are part of NATO's International Security Assistance Force. About 41,700 ISAF troops are in Afghanistan.

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Robert M. Gates

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