Video: Gates meets GIs

msnbc.com news services
updated 12/21/2006 10:51:16 AM ET 2006-12-21T15:51:16

Defense Secretary Robert Gates talked with Iraqi officials on Thursday about possible additional military assistance for the embattled government and assured them of continued U.S. support.

Briefing reporters after his session with Iraqi leaders, Gates said the focus of the discussions was “mainly on the overall approach, including the possibility of some additional assistance.”

But he was vague about the type of assistance discussed, and said no specific numbers of extra troops were discussed.

“We were really talking in broad terms,” he said.

The new defense chief is visiting Iraq with a high-level entourage in his first week in office to assess ways to calm growing violence in the country. President Bush is considering sending thousands more U.S. troops, and is expected to unveil his new policy next month.

“The Iraqi government is determined to improve the security of the people here in Iraq, and above all here in Baghdad,” said Gates, after meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Defense Minister Abdul Qadir and members of the Iraqi Security Council.

“Our discussions today were focused on how the United States can be helpful in the Iraqi government’s efforts to accomplish that goal,” Gates said.

More troops?
Earlier in the day, Gates asked soldiers on the ground in Baghdad for advice on fixing the war effort.

“Sir, I think we need to just keep doing what we’re doing,” Spc. Jason Glenn of Mount Grove, Missouri, told Gates over breakfast at Camp Victory.

“I really think we need more troops here. With more presence on the ground, more troops might hold them (the insurgents) off long enough to where we can get the Iraqi army trained up,” Glenn said.

“However you characterize it, it’s not good enough,” Gates told the soldiers about America’s progress in the war.

Defense officials travelling with the defense secretary said they did not know how the soldiers who met with Gates were chosen from the 134,000 troops in Iraq.

Chance to listen
While unscientific and perhaps not representative of troops’ thoughts overall, the soldiers’ views are among those Gates is weighing as he drafts recommendations for Bush.

Gates has given little indication of what strategies he will recommend to the president after returning from Iraq.

But he is openly discussing the possibility of a short-term increase, or “surge,” in U.S. troops to gain control over security in Baghdad, where sectarian killings and kidnappings terrorize the civilian population daily.

Gates’ one-hour breakfast with the 15 ordinary soldiers, none of whom were officers, was largely a question-and-answer session, with the defense secretary asking the majority of questions and seeking advice on troop levels, a timeline for training Iraqis, sectarian leanings within the Iraqi security forces and the “caliber and discipline” of both Iraqi soldiers and their military leaders.

No soldier present said the American forces should be brought home, and none said current troop levels were adequate, as some commanders have argued.

Gates stressed the importance of reconstruction efforts that could quickly improve Iraqis’ daily lives. He also said the United States and the Iraqi government should move to reopen state-owned factories and generate jobs.

Soldiers told Gates that Iraqi security forces were improving, but that many do not show up for work.

They also cited the challenge of training Iraqis who have ties to sectarian militias and who give those groups information about upcoming operations. One soldier said members of the Iraqi army see themselves as Iraqis but that local police identify themselves as Shiite or Sunni.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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