Appraisal of troops in Iraq still set for fall
The nation's defense secretary responds to questions about the latest U.S. surge
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he still believes that the Pentagon will know by late August or early September whether the surge of nearly 30,000 troops in Iraq is working.
Gates was responding to questions from reporters yesterday during his brief stop at the Pacific Command on statements made earlier in the day by Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, No. 2 American commander in Iraq.
The Associated Press reported that Odierno told reporters at the Pentagon via video news conference that it might take longer than September to determine whether the surge is enough to quell violence to give Iraqi officials breathing space to work on reconciliation and development issues.
"Right now if you asked me, I would tell you I'll probably need a little bit more time to do a true assessment," Odierno said.
Gates said Odierno was merely laying out the full range of alternatives.
"I don't think the goal post has changed really at all," Gates added. "I think he was saying that it can go a number of different ways, one of which is 'I need a little more time.'"
The secretary also said commanders in Iraq will have to make their assessments on what is going on there and not be swayed by what he described as the "Washington clock," referring to the growing impatience in the nation's capital with the pace of the war.
Gates, who was chosen Defense Department head in December, was asked whether the 25th Infantry Division would lose its Stryker Combat Brigade because of opposition from environmentalists and some Hawaii groups.
Gates said he was not familiar with the controversy, in which the Army has been required to examine sites other than Hawaii as a base for the 300 eight-wheeled, 19-ton combat vehicles.
However, Adm. Timothy Keating, Pacific Command leader, jumped in and said, "Can I recommend an answer? No, no, they (Strykers) will come back here."
The Schofield Barracks' Stryker unit is slated to deploy to Iraq this fall.
Gates, who is on his way to Singapore to attend an Asian security conference and then to Afghanistan, said a U.S. presence in Iraq could be required for "a protracted period of time" just as it has been in South Korea and in Japan.