By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Jan. 19, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today praised the efforts of coalition partners in Iraq during the final stop of a six-day fact-finding trip to Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. "Twenty-five countries are providing valuable aid and support for the effort here in Iraq, and we're grateful for their contributions," the secretary said at a news conference.
"I saw this morning the results of their great work in the Basra area," he said. "It should be noted that the three provinces to completely hand over security responsibility to the Iraqis so far are here in the southern part of the country, where our coalition partners have the lead."
Today, British leaders of Multinational Division Southeast and Polish leaders of Multinational Division Central/South briefed the secretary on their operations. Gates also spoke with leaders of provincial reconstruction teams in Iraq. The PRTs perform small reconstruction projects or provide security for others involved in aid and reconstruction work.
"Clearly, the security challenges we face, overall and especially here in Iraq, cannot be dealt with by purely military means," he said, "and so it was useful to see the other side of the story."
Gates pledged continued U.S. support for Iraqis who are standing up against elements working to derail the efforts to continue the country's progress.
"There are instigators of violence who are working against these efforts," he said. "Many Iraqis recognize this destructive influence and are taking steps to eliminate it. The United States is fully committed to aiding them in this effort."
The secretary cited the ultimate goal in Iraq that he and President Bush have expressed, and noted "widespread agreement" that the effort must succeed.
"Our goal is an Iraq that can defend itself, sustain itself, and govern itself and live free from the scourge of extremism," he said. "Whatever one's views on how we got to this point here in Iraq at this pivotal moment, there is widespread agreement here that failure would be a calamity for American national interests and those of many other countries as well.
"Given what is at stake," he continued, "failure is not an option."
Gates praised active and reserve servicemembers and their families, and he expressed his gratitude for their sacrifices.
"I just hope that Americans won't forget each one of these and their loved ones back home, and the ones back home trying to get the kids to school, get the lawn mowed, get the snow shoveled," he said. "And I hope that Americans will reach out not only to the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are here in the Middle East, in this theater, but will reach out to their families and help them all they can."
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