By By Vince Crawley
February 05, 2007
Gates also told Pentagon reporters that he does not see a classic civil war in Iraq but, instead, four separate overlapping conflicts.
In addition, Gates outlined benchmarks the Iraqi government should meet for continued U.S. military support. He said he is recommending that President Bush nominate Admiral Timothy Keating to be the new chief of U.S. Pacific Command, which oversees military forces in East Asia. Keating currently leads Northern Command, responsible for North America.
"With respect to Iran," Gates said, "the president has made clear; the secretary of state has made clear; I've made clear we are not planning for a war with Iran."
Speculation about U.S. motives against Iran has grown in recent weeks due to the deployment of a second aircraft carrier battle group to the Gulf, as well as a crackdown on militant networks in Iraq that has resulted in the apprehension of some Iranian operatives, Gates said.
The secretary said he ordered the second carrier to the Gulf to underscore to allies and potential adversaries that the United States continues to view stability in the region as a vital national interest. He added that recent coalition operations in Iraq have found evidence of Iranian involvement in explosively formed projectiles, or EFPs, found in sophisticated roadside bombs that can penetrate thick armor and even destroy an M1 Abrams main battle tank.
Marine General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefing reporters with Gates, said U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq are not targeting any specific nationalities as they attempt to unravel and eliminate networks that conduct roadside-bomb attacks.
"We are working day and night to disassemble these networks," Pace said, focusing exclusively on the enemy and not on nationality. "It is instructive," he added, "that at least twice in the last month we have picked up Iranians."
However, Gates said he did not know if the Iranian government has been involved in the actions of its nationals inside Iraq.
Besides trying to eliminate Iranian explosive threats in Iraq, the United States is working with the international community to address the Iranian government's program to enrich weapons-grade uranium. "We are trying to get them to stop their nuclear enrichment," Gates said. "We are doing [that] strictly through the diplomatic process. It seems to be showing some progress. The diplomatic process is working."
FOUR OVERLAPPING CONFLICTS IN IRAQ
Discussing the ongoing violence in Iraq, Gates said the desire by some to label it a "civil war" actually oversimplifies an extremely complex series of overlapping conflicts.
"I believe there are essentially four wars going on in Iraq," Gates said. "One is Shia on Shia, principally in the south. The second is sectarian conflict, principally in Baghdad, but not solely. The third is the insurgency [targeting the Iraqi government and coalition forces]. The fourth is al-Qaida. And al-Qaida is attacking, at times, all of those targets."
The United States already has deployed one of the five combat brigades announced by President Bush on January 10 as part of a "surge" in American forces that will send an additional 21,500 troops, primarily to Baghdad.
However, Gates said, the United States is supporting a comparable increase in Iraqi forces, and he briefly described some of the "benchmarks" the Iraqi government should meet to fulfill its agreements as part of the surge strategy.
The Iraq government has agreed to deploy Iraqi brigades into Baghdad neighborhoods, and each of these brigades will be supported by a U.S. battalion. Gates said that performance benchmarks for the Iraqi units include: "Are the brigades showing up? Are they showing up reasonably on time? Are they showing up in the numbers that they need to be showing up? Are the politicians staying out of the decisions on which neighborhoods to go into? Are the security forces allowed to go into all the neighborhoods where there are lawbreakers?"
Gates also told reporters that he is recommending Admiral Keating to replace Admiral William Fallon, who has headed the Pacific Command in Hawaii for the past two years. Fallon has been nominated to serve as the new chief of the U.S. Central Command.
Keating's past service includes commanding the Navy aircraft carrier group based in Yokosuka, Japan, and the Navy's 5th Fleet in the Gulf.
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