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Posted at 8:08 AM ET, 12/ 6/2010

Gates stops in Oman, visits carrier

By Craig Whitlock

MUSCAT, Oman -- Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had to fly and sail halfway around the world to break out of the Pentagon bubble.

"I am surrounded by bureaucracy at the Pentagon," Gates said Monday as he visited with some of the 5,000-member crew of the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier deployed in the Arabian Sea between Oman and Pakistan. "Ask me questions and tell me things you need," he told a group of officers as they chatted over a plate of spaghetti, meatballs and garlic bread.

It was Gates's first visit to a deployed aircraft carrier. Aides said he wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to thank sailors and pilots for serving in Operation Enduring Freedom, the Pentagon's name for the war in Afghanistan. Aircraft from the Abraham Lincoln perform missions over Afghanistan in support of ground troops there.

Gates observed flight operations from a catwalk on the carrier, watching two F/A-18s take off, followed by the landing of an E-2C Hawkeye and an EA-6 Prowler.

The defense secretary arrived in Oman on Sunday and met with Sultan Qaboos bin Said, a longtime U.S. ally. The sultan is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the start of his reign. He took power in 1970 by ousting his father.

By Craig Whitlock  | December 6, 2010; 8:08 AM ET
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