By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
June 5, 2007 – Although acknowledging he'd like to see faster progress in Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today refused to point fingers at the Iraqi army and said that force is standing up to challenges confronting it. "We would certainly be happy if there was faster progress on the political front in terms of reunification," Gates said in response to a question during a joint news conference with Gen. Lt. Ismail Isakov, the Kyrgyz defense minister.
However, the secretary said he never had illusions that the security situation in Iraq would improve overnight.
"General (David) Petraeus, (commander of Multinational Force Iraq), has been pretty clear from the very beginning that this is going to be a difficult process," Gates said.
He declined commenting on press reports that the troop surge in Baghdad, soon to be at full force, isn't succeeding as quickly as expected in terms of number of neighborhoods controlled.
If, in fact, the surge is progressing slower than expected, Gates said, that's because the insurgents are working to prevent progress. "It's clearly because al Qaeda and others are trying to make as much difficulty as possible for us and for the Iraqi government," he said.
Gates said he's impressed with the Iraqi army and noted that it is suffering twice the number of casualties as coalition forces. "I think their willingness to fight and die for their country is not in doubt," he said.
In other news, Gates offered little information about a decision to dismiss charges against two Guantanamo Bay detainees, saying he had just learned about the matter himself.
"That is the reason we have a judicial process in all of this," Gates said of the decision. "We will have to take a look at it and see what the implications are."
Military judges dismissed charges yesterday against Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni detainee who was alleged to have chauffeured Osama bin Laden, and Omar Khadr, a Canadian alleged to have killed a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan.
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