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Hearing of the Senate Committee on Appropriations - The President's FY 2008 Supplemental Request for the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


Hearing of the Senate Committee on Appropriations - The President's FY 2008 Supplemental Request for the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

SEN. KOHL: Thank you very much. Thank you.

Mr. Chairman, Secretary Gates, you were part of the Iraq Study Group which unanimously recommending reducing our troops in Iraq to force the Iraqis themselves to take a larger role and also engaging in a diplomatic offensive with Iraq's neighbors.

That study group supported moving the situation in Iraq from one that was dependent on the United States military to a Middle East- wide diplomatic effort. Now that Iraq Study Group, as I said, was unanimously signed and I know you've moved up to your present job just before that report became official but I assume -- and correct me -- you would have signed that report. What has happened in your mind to the Iraq Study Group's conclusions?

SEC. GATES: Well, it's kind of interesting. The Iraq Study Group's conclusions might have been different if I'd stayed -- or at least somewhat. I would say that, first of all, most of the recommendations of the study group are -- either have been implemented or are being implemented in one way or another.

The interesting feature -- one of the interesting recommendations of the study group was that it spoke of the potential desirability of a relatively short-term surge to try and bring the security situation in Baghdad under control. And the report acknowledges that that surge might require 100,000 to 200,000 additional troops. And they then rejected that idea not because they thought that kind of a surge was a bad idea, but they didn't know where the troops would come from.

And I would say that two of the members of the study group were those who recommended when we were in Baghdad a year ago about this time that, in fact, we recommend a surge.

So I think that the part of the recommendations that I think has not fully been implemented at this point is their view of what the mission of the U.S. forces should be. I think what the president has announced, though, is the beginning of a transition to a mission, I think, similar to what they had in mind that is focused on going after al Qaeda, protecting the borders against foreign intervention and supporting and training the Iraqi forces.

The other piece of it that I think probably people would argue has not been implemented to the extent that Baker-Hamilton recommended was the outreach to the Syrians and to the Iraqis that was described in an earlier exchange between Ambassador Negroponte and one of the members of the committee.

I would say here that we continue to have diplomatic relations with the Syrians; we have begun having conversations in Iraq with the Iranians. There clearly is a lot of effort.

Another piece of Baker-Hamilton was aggressive pursuit of Middle East peace process. I think that's what Secretary Rice has been involved in just in her trip to the region a few days ago. So I think that large elements of the report are being implemented or have been implemented with the exceptions that I mentioned.

SEN. BYRD: I think that what many people came away from with respect to the study groups report was that there should be a major diplomatic effort to include all the nations surrounding Iraq in a common mission to stabilize and to see that the country begins to pull out of its chaos. And I don't think that's happened to any extent worth noting thus far. Isn't that true?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think I would defer to Ambassador Negroponte on this, but my impression is that the neighbor's conferences that have included as I recall both the Syrians and the Iranians have been directed toward that end. And my impression is that those conferences have produced some positive results.

MR. NEGROPONTE: And that is an area of diplomatic effort that we want to continue, Senator.

SEN. BYRD: Secretary Gates, again, there's a perception that we're involved in an open-ended commitment, military commitment in Iraq. General Petraeus said that we would continue what we are doing now into next spring and if things don't improve then we may have to continue to do what we're doing, militarily.

Now to many people that represents a sort of a blank check. Aren't we saying -- or couldn't we be interpreted as saying that we will be there indefinitely putting our troops in the crossfire of a sectarian civil war until at some point the Iraqis decide to put their guns down? And if that is something like the road that we're walking down, it appears that we've lost control of the situation and we're just being pulled along by what is going on with respect to their sectarian differences in Iraq with no end in sight.

SEC. GATES: Well, Senator, I think that the, first of all, the plan to -- first of all, we've already not replaced the Marine Expeditionary Unit that was in Anbar. We will begin pulling down a brigade about every 45 days, thereabouts -- this -- General Petraeus' plan through July. He stated when he testified up here that it was his expectation that the drawdowns would continue after July although the pace might be determined by what was going on -- would be determined to a considerable extent by what was going on on the ground.

I think he would not have made these recommendations and the recommendations would not have been supported by the senior military leadership if it were not their expectation that the events would continue to move in the direction that they've been moving in the last three months or so -- in a positive direction.

The truth of the matter is some of the most positive things that are happening in Iraq are things we didn't anticipate. The turn in Anbar by the sheikhs who saw where al Qaeda basically overplayed their hand and killed too many Sunnis and the sheikhs also saw them competing for power and economic control and came together against al Qaeda that has created some of the opportunities there. Same thing may be happening in the Shi'a area because the Jaish al Madhi has overplayed their hand by killing two governors and so on.

So I think that, I mean the path that we're on is a path toward drawing down the number of U.S. forces and the beginning of a transition in mission to a very different kind of role for the United States. I think the real issue that most of us have -- the debate is about the pace of those drawdowns.

SEN. KOHL: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

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