By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Feb. 2, 2007 – The United States has no plans to go to war with Iran, but it won't tolerate Iranian activities that are endangering U.S. troops in Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters today during a Pentagon news conference. "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," Gates said in response to a reporter's question.
Rather, he said, the United States is working "to counter what the Iranians are doing to our soldiers," most significantly their activities related to explosively formed projectiles, or EFPs, that are killing U.S. troops. EFPs are far more lethal than more traditional improvised explosive devices, Gates said, noting they are capable of taking out an M1-A2 Abrams tank.
"And so our effort is aimed at uprooting the networks that are providing these EFPS," as well as IEDs, to al Qaeda and other groups, Gates said. "These darn things account for about 70 percent of our casualties. And so there's a huge effort under way to try and uproot these networks and try to stop this."
"We are working day and night to disassemble these networks" that do everything from providing materials to construct these explosives to building them to delivering them and the firing devices," Pace told reporters. "And we do that without regard to nationality, but just with regard to who our enemies are."
Pace called it "instructive" that twice during the last month to 40 days, while "going after the networks, we have picked up Iranians."
"They happened to be policed up amongst the bad guys," he said.
Gates said he doesn't know at this point if the Iranian government or rogue elements within Iran are involved.
Multinational Force Iraq officials are preparing a briefing that will provide specifics about how Iranians supply these weapons, but Gates said he, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and National Security Advisor Steve Hadley asked them to delay it.
"(We) want to make sure that the briefing that is provided is absolutely accurate and is dominated by facts - serial numbers, technology and so on," he said. "And so we just want to make sure that the briefing that is provided is completely reliable."
The secretary declined to discuss if Iranians played any role in the Jan. 20 attack on the Provincial Joint Coordination Center in Karbala, Iraq, telling reporters the incident remains under investigation. In that incident, enemy fighters dressed in U.S. Army-style combat uniforms and carrying U.S.-type weapons penetrated Iraqi checkpoints, then went on to capture and kill four soldiers.
The secretary emphasized that deploying a second aircraft carrier, the USS John C. Stennis, to the Persian Gulf isn't a direct response to Iran. Rather, he said, it's designed to send a message to friends and potential adversaries alike.
"The purpose of that is simply to underscore to our friends, as well as to our potential adversaries in the region, that the United States has considered the Persian Gulf and that whole area - the stability in that area - to be a vital national interest," he said.
This policy has remained constant for decades and under numerous presidential administrations, he noted. "We simply want to reinforce to our friends, in particular, that they can count on us having a presence and being strong in their area in protecting our interests and in protecting theirs," he said.
As it addresses the immediate issue of potential Iranian support for activities endangering U.S. troops, Gates said another U.S. concern - about Iran's nuclear-enrichment program - is being addressed "strictly through the diplomatic process."
"It seems to be showing some progress," he said.
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