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American Forces Press Service

Gates, Pace Give Update on Iraq, Afghanistan, Readiness

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15, 2007 – Is the Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Iran? Maybe, maybe not.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters today he hasn’t seen “any factual proof of it at this point.” If he is in Iran, Gates said, “I don’t think he went there for a vacation.”

The secretary told reporters here he thinks the Shia insurgents are very concerned about the security crackdown in Iraq, and “one possible outcome is that these guys will go to ground.”

Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Marine Gen. Peter Pace briefed reporters on their most recent trips and fielded questions on Iraq, Afghanistan, European missile defense, the readiness of the U.S. armed forces and other topics.

Gates said he spent Thursday and Friday of last week at his first NATO defense ministers’ informal meeting in Seville, Spain. The discussions focused mainly on the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, the allies meeting their commitments to the mission, and the importance of NATO contributing more money and forces.

From Seville, Gates traveled to Germany for the 43rd Munich Conference on Security Policy, where he met a number of people he said he had met not before, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukraine President Victor Yushchenko.

The next leg of his journey, Gates said, was a 30-hour trip to and from Pakistan and an hour-and-20-minute meeting with President Pervez Musharraf. The focus of the visit was the Taliban and the spring offensive in Afghanistan.

“What we’ve seen in the last several springs is an increasing level of violence by the Taliban after the winter,” the secretary said. “What we want to do this spring, is have this spring’s offensive be our offensive, and have the initiative in our hands, rather than reacting to them.”

While he would not get into specifics about what he discussed with Musharraf, Gates did tell the reporters, “If I were Osama bin Laden, I’d keep looking over my shoulder.”

Asked why the U.S. and NATO are planning to install ballistic missile defenses in Europe to counter Iranian missiles that can not yet reach Europe, Gates said defense planners must consider “the acceleration of technological progress.”

“If we see a threat out there, and we’re looking out to 2015 and beyond, we would be making a very serious mistake … to assume that by that time frame they would not have the capability to reach targets much farther away than southern Turkey,” the secretary said.

“If somebody will guarantee me that Iran will freeze their missile technology as of today, then maybe I’d have a higher comfort level,” he said. “If someone will guarantee me that Iran will not be able ballistic missile technology from others that would give them greater capabilities, then maybe I’d rest easier. I don’t have those assurances.”

Pace traveled to the South Pacific last week, where he met with military and national leaders in Australia and Indonesia. He said Australia is a very longstanding, solid ally. Australian forces have served with U.S. forces in every conflict since World War I and they are now serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Indonesia, topics of discussion included peacekeeping, enhancing military-to-military ties and humanitarian disaster relief operations.

Asked about the readiness of non-deployed military units, Pace said about 40 percent of all the military’s equipment is in Iraq and Afghanistan, or in depots for repair.

“Which leaves about 60 percent of the inventory, which is an enormous amount of equipment,” the chairman.

Congress has allocated money to repair the equipment, and the military depots are working on the backlog as quickly as they can, he added.

“It is true that for the five brigades that are flowing to plus up in Iraq right now,” Pace said, “we are moving equipment from some units to those units so that when they go they are fully trained and have all the equipment they are required to have, so when we put those soldiers and Marines into combat, they are as well protected and trained as those they are joining.”

Moving equipment from one unit to another should not cause potential enemies to miscalculate the capability of America’s forces, Pace said. The United States has sufficient reserve capacity to respond to additional challenges.

“If there was another threat, we would freeze the units that are in Iraq and Afghanistan in place and mobilize our reserve, and bring on line the enormous capacity of the United States that in a day-to-day war, we don’t have to tap,” he said.

There are 2.4 million Americans, active duty, Guard and reserve, Pace said. “Two hundred thousand are in the Gulf region, another 200,000 are in Afghanistan, leaving about 2 million Americans still available, with the vast fleet and air forces that we have, to respond to any other challenge that might come our way.”

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