By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
March 21, 2008 - The process for deciding the way forward in Iraq is well under way, as military and civilian leaders are sharing their thoughts, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today. During a news conference, Morrell said Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates spent part of the morning today discussing the issue with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Yesterday, Gates had a similar conversation with U.S. Central Command chief Navy Adm. William J. Fallon and Multinational Force Iraq commander Army Gen. David H. Petraeus. Petraeus participated via video teleconference.
"These two meetings ... were an opportunity for the secretary to hear the very latest thinking and analyses of senior military leaders before they brief President Bush in the coming days," Morrell said.
The secretary was impressed with the military leaders' presentations, Morrell said, "and is confident that just as they did last September, Admiral Fallon, General Petraeus and the Joint Chiefs will provide the president with the information and advice he needs to continue to chart a path toward success in Iraq while also taking into account the stress on the force after five years of fighting there."
Today's session allowed the Joints Chiefs to express their views of the way forward to Gates, and the chiefs will have a similar session with the president March 26, Morrell said.
"The process is identical to the one that we used last September," Morrell said. "That provided the president the opportunity to hear from all of the Joint Chiefs, obviously including the chairman."
This process began some time ago, the press secretary said. Last month, Gates sat down with Petraeus in Iraq to hear his views and has consulted with Fallon as well.
Gates has expressed his belief in the value of a pause in troop-level reductions once the last of the five surge brigades has left Iraq in July, Morrell said. Petraeus first floated the idea, and Fallon has endorsed it, Morrell said. The pause would give commanders the opportunity to assess post-surge conditions and allow for further evaluation.
The press secretary would not say what advice the chiefs or the secretary are prepared to give the president.
"We want to preserve the integrity of the process as much as possible so the president can hear from his key military leaders firsthand, without going through the media, what their views are," Morrell said.
Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker are scheduled to testify about the situation in Iraq before Congress on April 8 and 9.