Gates: Working With Locals a Key Mission

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

ARLINGTON, Va. – Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday that standing up and mentoring local armies and police has become a key mission for the U.S. military and not the province of its special forces.

“The same is true for mastering foreign language and civil affairs tasks such as reviving public services and promoting good governance,” Gates said in a speech to the annual dinner of the Marine Corps Association. These efforts by the U.S. military “have moved from the margins to the mainstream of military thinking, planning and personnel policies, where they must stay.”

As for operations in Iraq to target al-Qaida, co-opt insurgents, provide basic security and improve the quality of life for the Iraqi people, Gates said the U.S. strategy “will take patience and persistence, and some level of American force and assistance, for some time.”

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Gates, who took over as defense chief seven months ago, said “asymmetrical war” _ what some military experts call a conflict that uses non-conventional means against a traditional army _ has become a mainstay, if not the centerpiece, of the contemporary battlefield.

“Indeed, after Desert Storm and the initial military success of Operation Iraqi Freedom, it is hard to conceive any country challenging the United States using conventional ground forces _ at least for some years to come,” he said in reference to the two wars the U.S. has fought in Iraq.

The traditional edge the U.S. has enjoyed in technology, firepower and logistics provides tactical advantages when dealing with irregular forces, Gates said, but no necessarily strategic success.

“Direct force will no doubt need to be used against our adversaries _ ruthlessly and without mercy or apology,” he said. “But it is also clear that in these kinds of operations, we are not going to kill or capture our way to victory.”

Regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Gates said, “Though these conflicts will not last indefinitely in their current form and scale, we must expect our military to be called to other irregular campaigns in the future.”

Gates said he was unhappy that Marine Gen. Peter Pace will not continue as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Instead of seeking Pace’s reappointment to a second two-year term, Gates recommended that President Bush nominate Adm. Mike Mullen, the chief of naval operations, to succeed Pace.

When he announced last month that Pace was stepping down Sept. 30, Gates said the administration wanted to avoid a congressional confirmation hearing for Pace that would focus on mistakes in Iraq and be contentious and “backward-looking.”

Gates said Wednesday that he had told Pace they would work together through the end of the Bush administration. “I can’t tell you how much I regret that the current environment here in Washington did not make that possible,” he said.

Pace is the only Marine ever to head the Joint Chiefs.

Speaking in Afghanistan on Wednesday, Pace predicted that the global war on terror will compel the U.S. to fight somewhere in the world for at least 20 to 30 more years.

“It’s fair enough to have a dialogue about whether we’re going to do it in place A or in place B,” Pace told troops during a visit to Bagram. “But we’re going to do it some place and, from where I stand, I’d much rather be doing it in some place overseas than some place at home.”

Pace was answering a question from a soldier who asked how to persuade Congress and the American people to keep up the fight. He said “there is confusion” about how to win the global war but that he has faith that over time the American people will come to fully understand the threat the U.S. faces and remain energized they way they did during the Cold War.

Besides the major campaigns the U.S. is waging in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military is “very much involved” in some 20 other countries, Pace said. Teams as small as a handful of troops are deployed in some of those places to help train local forces in special operations, good government and conduct other missions, he said

“There’s a lot going on right now that’s not visible,” Pace said. “Nor do we necessarily want it to be visible in countries that want our assistance but don’t necessarily want potential enemies to know that we’re working together right now.”

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