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Iraq Status of Forces Draft Protects U.S. Servicemembers, Gates Says

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 22, 2008 – The draft status of forces agreement between the governments of the United States and Iraq contains adequate protections for U.S. military members, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during a Pentagon Channel interview broadcast today.

Gates said he and other senior civilian and military leaders believe that the draft agreement contains satisfactory protections for U.S. servicemembers.

Among other things, status of forces agreements delineate how U.S. servicemembers are treated under a host nation’s laws.

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, soon-to-be U.S. Central Command chief Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and Multinational Force Iraq Commander Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno “have been very deeply involved in this whole process of negotiation” over the Iraq SOFA, Gates said.

The Defense Department would not put military members serving in Iraq at risk, Gates emphasized. “We think that the agreement does not do that,” he said.

Turning to Afghanistan, Gates noted that the U.S. government does not have the large numbers of people available for reconstruction missions it had before the end of the Cold War. However, he said, the United States is one of 42 nations providing expertise to help Afghanistan get onto its feet. The United Nations and the European Union, he said, also have representatives in Afghanistan.

“There’s a lot of civilian capacity out there, maybe not necessarily in [provincial reconstruction teams] or things like that,” Gates said, “but there’s quite a bit out there -- and more is on the way.”

The main issue regarding current reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, Gates said, is to identify how best to use the diverse elements working there.

“I think the real challenge in Afghanistan is bringing all that together and integrating it and coordinating it better,” he said.

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Robert M. Gates

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