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American Forces Press Service

Pace, Gates Discuss Retention, Iraq Challenges

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 2007 – High military retention rates, particularly among troops who have served in Iraq, shows they recognize the importance of what they’re doing and the consequences of failing, Marine Gen. Peter Pace told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.

Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates spoke about retention, the challenges facing troops serving in Iraq, and the president's new Iraq strategy during their testimony.

“First of all, fundamentally, (the troops) believe in the mission they have been given,” Marine Gen. Peter Pace told the panel. “Second, and also fundamentally, they believe that the American people support them in their mission and support them as a military.”

Pace offered his assessment the day after defense officials announced that all the services met or exceeded their active-duty recruiting goals for December. The Army, Marine Corps and Air Force met or exceeded their retention missions, and the Navy fell 4 percent short of its year-to-date retention mission.

Pace attributed much of this success to the fact that the troops understand what ultimately happens in Iraq will affect them, their loved ones and the country’s future.

Gates agreed with Pace's estimate. “There is no doubt in my mind that a failure -- which I regard as our leaving Iraq in chaos or an Iraq that has a government that is supportive of terror – would have enormous impact for the region and for us for a long time to come,” Gates said.

Gates acknowledged that the situation the troops face in Iraq has become increasingly difficult and complicated.

“Whatever was the case when the war started, …. the reality is, virtually all of the bad guys of the Middle East are now active in Iraq,” Gates told the panel. “Hezbollah is proving training, al Qaeda is active, the Iranians are interfering, the Syrians are interfering, so they are all there. And so the situation is both violent and complex.”

Gates and Pace told the Senate committee they believe the new Iraq strategy President Bush announced on Jan. 9 will help the situation in Iraq around. The plan calls includes more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops on the ground in Baghdad and Anbar province, increased responsibility for the Iraqi government and Iraqi security forces, and more diplomatic and economic initiatives.

A big difference in the plan – one Pace said is key in making it work – is that it includes a pledge by Iraqi leaders to allow U.S. commanders to work throughout Baghdad without previous constraints. They will be able to operate “without regard to sectarian areas to bring rule of law to all criminals, to work in mixed neighborhoods and Sunni neighborhoods and Shia neighborhoods to bring the peace that is required,” the chairman said.

In addition, the plan will help jump-start the Iraqi economy and improve everyday life for its people. Pace called Iraq’s pledge to spend $10 million of its own money for reconstruction efforts “important and significant.”

Pace called commitments by both the U.S. and Iraqi governments to increase economic activity another major step forward that will “provide jobs to get the young men off the streets and pick up employment.”

Both the secretary and chairman reiterated President Bush in telling the senators the U.S. commitment in Iraq isn’t open-ended and that the Iraqis will have to hold up their part of the deal.

Gates said the United States will be able to tell “early in this process…probably within a couple of months” if the Iraqis are living up to their commitments in the plan.

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