Gates finally sees sun, and troops, in Iraq
By Glenn Kessler
KIRKUK, Iraq -- Under a brilliant sunny sky Friday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates finally had a chance to talk at length with U.S. troops.
Gates had been thwarted by bad weather in his efforts earlier this week to meet with U.S. troops on the frontlines of America's wars. He was greeted in Afghanistan on Tuesday by persistent rain, occasional snow and heavy, low-hanging clouds, making helicopter travel impossible. Some of the bases Gates wanted to visit were only a half hour's drive from Kabul. But military officials nixed a road trip, saying Gates's large military convoy would have been an immediate target for insurgents.
In Baghdad Thursday, Gates was confronted by another delay: Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, consumed with parliamentary outrage over a series of bombings Tuesday that left 127 dead, canceled plans for a meeting, and Gates cooled his heels at the U.S. embassy for several hours waiting to see if Maliki might finally be available.
Being kept waiting is yet one more sign that visiting Americans are increasingly less important to Iraqi officials. But the normally late-rising prime minister graciously rescheduled the meeting for 7:50 Friday morning so Gates could keep to his planned schedule in northern Iraq the rest of the day. Gates, who spent 14 hours last week testifying before Congress on President Obama's new plan for Afghanistan, told Maliki he understood the necessity of dealing with legislative concerns. "I feel your pain," he said.
When he finally arrived in Kirkuk, Gates was briefed by Lt. Toby Kearney about a mission being planned with Iraqi security forces. Kearney, who comes from Fairfax, gave an upbeat description of how well the two forces are working together, and introduced Gates to several senior Iraqi military officials.
"You look very young," exclaimed Maj. Gen. Turhan Abdul Rahman, Kirkuk provincial director of police. "You look much older on TV."
At a 45-minute "town hall" near a collection of concrete blast walls on the Kirkuk air base, Gates pinned medals on four soldiers and answered detailed and probing questions on Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and other issues.
Lt. Col. Chris Norrie of Fort Dix, N.J., said that soldiers spend a lot of time calming tensions between Kirkuk's Kurdish residents and those who hail from Iraq's Arab majority-- two peoples with a history of animosity dating back centuries. Gates said tensions between the two groups held the greatest potential for further conflict.
Gates offered more direct answers to the soliders than he likely would have if the same questions had come from the reporters standing nearby. At one point, Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, even came close to suggesting that the former had let the situation slide in Afghanistan for much of his first term.
Gates told the troops that rather than viewing Afghanistan as one eight-year war, the conflict should be considered two wars--a brief one in 2001, which the United States won, and then a second war that started at the end of 2005. Though troops were increased from 22,000 to 46,000 by the end of the Bush administration, he said, "they were still under-resourced."
"The Bush administration worked on a comprehensive strategy toward the end of 2008 and handed it off to Obama administration. They took it into account but then did a broader and I think more thorough effort," he said.
Gates said he understood "the impatience" of troops and the American people to be finished in Afghanistan, but cautioned that it is a "pretty recent development" that "we have to begun to resource what we need to do in Afghanistan and have a strategy on how to do it right and be successful."
By Glenn Kessler
December 11, 2009; 11:18 AM ET
Categories: 44 The Obama Presidency , Cabinet , National Security , Security
Save & Share: Previous: Is there an 'Obama Doctrine'?
Next: Oprah's White House special: A preview
Posted by: sideboom | December 13, 2009 11:30 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: ricktickd | December 12, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse
Posted by: edtroyhampton | December 11, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse
The comments to this entry are closed.