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Pause Should Not Slow Down Troops’ Return, Gates Says

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

EN ROUTE TO CANBERRA, Australia, Feb. 21, 2008 – A short pause after the initial withdrawal of five brigade combat teams from Iraq should not sideline efforts to bring more troops home by the end of the year, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates listens to a question from Kristin Roberts, a Reuters reporter, enroute to Australia onboard a U.S. Air Force E-4B National Airborne Operations Center aircraft over the Pacific Ocean, Feb. 21, 2008. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jerry Morrison
  

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

“My hope still is that we will be able to further draw down our troops in Iraq over the course of the next 10 to 12 months. I’ve always indicated that it will be based on the conditions on the ground,” Gates said during an interview with media traveling with him.

The secretary said that commanders on the ground persuaded him during his recent visit to Baghdad that there needed to be a period of consolidation and evaluation after the five brigades leave to determine if commanders on the ground can sustain and even improve on recent security gains.

“My hope would be that it would be a relatively brief period, but we will see in greater detail what General (David H.) Petraeus has in mind when he brings his recommendations back to Washington and to the president next month,” Gates said.

Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, and other senior leaders, including the U.S. Central Command commander and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will brief Gates and President Bush on their own perspectives on the direction war efforts need to take.

Gates said the evaluation from the three top officers’ perspectives is needed to accurately direct any future troop movements in the region. “I think that the consolidation and evaluation is probably necessary to be able to assess the pacing … of any subsequent drawdowns,” Gates said.

One of Gates’ challenges before he leaves his post at the end of this administration will be to try to get the war in Iraq to a place where commanders can continue a process of gradual drawdowns.

“Some levels of U.S. forces, significantly lower than right now, will need to remain in Iraq for some period of time for stabilization, to continue the fight against al Qaeda, to continue training and equipping the Iraqi forces,” Gates said. “I think that that is … on track.”

Gates also is working to get a longer-term strategy for the war in Afghanistan approved by NATO and other heads of state, he said. “It’s important in terms of looking well beyond this administration and seeing what we can do to bring greater allied unity and commitment to the kind of long-term effort that is going to be required in Afghanistan,” Gates said.

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Robert M. Gates


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