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Gates to stay on as Pentagon head

Text by REUTERS

Latest update : 2008-11-26

Defence Secretary Robert Gates will remain as Pentagon chief in the Obama administration. Gates, who backed a surge in US troops and shifted tactics to send them into Iraqi communities, has been credited with overseeing a turnaround in the war.

 

WASHINGTON - Robert Gates, asked by President-elect Barack Obama to stay on as defense secretary, has overseen a turnaround in the U.S. war in Iraq and sought good relations with both Democrats and Republicans at home.

 

A former Cold War spymaster, Gates was president of Texas A&M University when President George W. Bush asked him to take over the Pentagon from the combative Donald Rumsfeld in 2006.

 

Rumsfeld, a star of the early years of the Bush administration, had become a magnet for critics of the deeply unpopular Iraq war and his relations with military officers, members of Congress and the media had become strained.

 

Gates, now 65, set about putting things back on an even keel with a low-key approach that sought to build constructive relationships but also betrayed a steely firmness of purpose.

 

"One of my favorite quotes is from Frederick the Great," he told reporters early in his term. "Negotiations without arms are like notes without instruments."

 

Gates backed the "surge" of some 30,000 U.S. troops into Iraq in 2007, when violence was at its worst, and a change in tactics under U.S. Army Gen. Petraeus that pushed U.S. forces off big bases and out into communities to protect Iraqis.

 

The surge, opposed by Obama, is widely credited with helping to avert an all-out civil war and reducing violence in Iraq to its lowest level in more than four years.

 

Gates also sent more troops to Afghanistan, but U.S. and NATO forces have been unable to halt a big rise in violence by Taliban militants and other insurgents in the past two years.

 

Gates has put a premium on maintaining good relations with allies -- badly damaged over the Iraq war -- but he ran into trouble after saying in January he was worried some NATO forces "don't know how to do counterinsurgency operations."

 

HOLDING OFFICIALS ACCOUNTABLE

 

In an administration that has been widely criticized for not holding people accountable for failures, Gates has held senior leaders at the Pentagon to high standards.

 

He fired the Army's top civilian last year due to a scandal over the treatment of wounded troops and this year he took the unprecedented step of sacking the top uniformed and civilian officials in the Air Force over nuclear-related blunders.

 

Members of both parties have praised Gates, a former CIA director, for being candid and courteous with the U.S. Congress.

 

Asked at his confirmation hearing in 2006 whether the United States was winning the Iraq war, he replied, "No, sir."

 

Gates has sometimes lashed out at the Pentagon bureaucracy. He has accused some military officers and defense industry executives of "next-war-itis" for fixating on possible future conflicts with nation-states instead of concentrating on the current irregular warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

"It is true that we would be hard-pressed to launch a major conventional ground operation elsewhere in the world at this time -- but where would we sensibly do that?" he said in May.

 

That emphasis on irregular warfare worries some military officers, who fear the United States could lose its edge in the long term over major nations such as Russia and China.

 

Gates circumvented Pentagon procedures to get armored trucks into Iraq in large numbers quickly to protect troops from roadside bombs and to increase surveillance aircraft providing imagery for commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

He writes condolence notes by hand to the families of all U.S. troops killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

 

Unusually for a Pentagon chief, Gates has advocated a larger budget for the State Department and called for greater use of instruments of "soft power" such as diplomacy.

 

He has also said the military-run prison for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be closed, calling it a "real liability for the United States."

Date created : 2008-11-26

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