By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 3, 2007 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he felt it was important for top military commanders here to be able to deliver their individual assessments directly to the commander in chief without "summarization" or "filters." "I felt it was very important that the president have the opportunity to speak directly to each of his senior military commanders and to get their views on the way forward," Gates said at the end of a day-long surprise visit here with President Bush and top U.S. political and military leaders.
Gates talked with the Pentagon press corps flanked by Stephen J. Hadley, National Security Advsior, and Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan,.
The defense secretary said that he feels that security has improved overall in Iraq.
"I think that there is the general view that certainly here in Anbar the security situation has improved, and has improved in other parts of Iraq as well," Gates said. "We are trying to look at Iraq in its different pieces. Clearly there is hard work to be done in some, but the situation elsewhere is in pretty good shape."
Gates said the president already has the analysis from the commanders on the ground. Gates said he will wait until Gen. David H.Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, presents his report to Congress next week before delivering his own assessment.
The president and his top decision-makers traveled here to discuss progress in Iraq "face-to-face" with key leaders on the ground as he prepares his recommendations for the next steps in the theater, officials said. The meeting comes days before Petraeus is scheduled to report before congress on progress made here.
U.S. officials met with Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, President Jalal Talabani, Vice President Tariq al Hashimi, Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi and Massoud Barzani, president of the semiautonomous Kurdish region.
This was Gates' second trip to this western-most province in Iraq that was once considered hopelessly lost to the insurgency. In recent months, though, tribal leaders and forces have begun siding with U.S. and Iraqi forces to repel al Qaeda in Iraq.
Al Asad Airbase is the second largest air base in Iraq and is about 120 miles northwest of Baghdad.