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American Forces Press Service

Gates Open to Increasing End-strength if Forces Deployed Correctly

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2006 – Robert M. Gates vowed today to be an independent voice if he is confirmed as defense secretary.

“I don’t owe anybody anything,” Gates said in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I’ve come back here to do the best I can for the men and women in uniform and for the country in terms of these difficult problems that we face.”

Gates, who was nominated for the top DoD post by President Bush, also said he is open to increasing the end-strength of the Army and Marine Corps.

Gates said he thinks the United States is not winning in Iraq, but he said the United States is going to have to have a presence in Iraq for some time. Iraqi forces have no logistical capabilities or air power of their own, he said.

Regardless of strategy changes, he said, “clearly we are still going to have to have some form of American support for a number of years, but it could be with a dramatically smaller number of U.S. forces than we have today.”

Gates said the United States is willing to continue to help the Iraqis “as long as they want our help.” But this does not imply that the U.S. military will be in Iraq at the same levels needed to handle major combat operations, he added.

He said he agrees with President Bush’s goal for Iraq: a country that can defend, sustain and govern itself. Gates said the president believes “there needs to be a change in our approach in Iraq, that what we are doing now is not working satisfactorily.”

Gates said Bush told him he wanted someone with “fresh eyes” to look at the situation in Iraq and make recommendations. “In my view, all options are on the table in how we address the problems in Iraq in terms of how we can be more successful and how we can, at some point, begin to draw down our forces,” Gates said. “The bottom line is that I believe he wants me to take a fresh look and all options are on the table.”

Gates also said there were “clearly insufficient troops in Iraq after the initial invasion to establish control over the country.” But, if the Senate confirms him, he is “very open to the possibility of and the necessity of an increase in the end-strength of the Army.”

Gates noted there are 150,000 troops engaged in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan today. But the Army has 500,000 active-duty soldiers and another 500,000 reserve-component forces. He said he would like to see how the rest of the rest of the Army -- those not engaged in Iraq or Afghanistan -- is being used to ensure that all forces are used in the best way.

“If the answer is those troops are deployed in the way we want them deployed, then I am very open to the idea of increasing the end-strength,” he said.

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