By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
May 31, 2008 - With progress being made in Iraq, the United States must focus on getting the "end game" right, while being patient enough to refrain from making "a tactical decision that has strategic consequences," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today. Gates, addressing questions after his keynote address at the Asia Security Summit, conceded that the war in Iraq war has been controversial.
"But regardless of what you think about how we got where we are, it is terribly important not to get the end game wrong in Iraq, because the consequences for the whole Middle East -- and frankly, I think, for the world -- are quite dire if we do," he said.
Gates cited "broad, if often grudging, admission" that progress has been made in the past year since the strategy supported by the troop surge took hold.
"My hope is that the situation in Iraq will continue to improve," he said. He said she shares Army Gen. David H. Petreaus' goal, stated during his confirmation hearings for the top U.S. Central Command post, that the United States will be in a position to continue troop drawdowns this fall. Over time, he said, the United States expects to see a "transition of mission," with the Iraqis assuming more roles currently carried out by the U.S. military.
"The issue is really, in my opinion, a question of pacing and how fast we do it and how fast the Iraqis can take on responsibility," he said. He cited recent Iraqi security force activity in Basra, Sadr City and Mosul as "encouraging in this respect."
While Iraq may evoke controversy, Gates said, he sees broad bipartisan support in Congress for efforts under way in Afghanistan. "I see broad continued American commitment in Afghanistan, in partnership with our allies there in carrying forward that struggle," he said.
If anything, the next president is likely to increase the U.S. level of commitment there, he said.
Gates is in Singapore attending the 7th annual Asia Security Summit, known as the Shangri-La Dialogue after the hotel where it is held.
He assured defense ministers, chiefs of staff and other senior security policy-makers from more than 20 major Asian nations that ongoing operations Iraq and Afghanistan won't distract the United States from its commitments in Asia.