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US Defense Secretary says Iraq War Long, Difficult

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In a speech before the Dallas Chamber of Commerce Thursday, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates cautioned against allowing weariness with the war in Iraq to provoke a withdrawal that he said would bring chaos to the Middle East. VOA's Greg Flakus has more from our Houston bureau.

Secretary Gates said the United States has a responsibility as a global leader to pursue the war in Iraq and the larger war on terrorism, in spite of the high cost in lives and resources and the effect those costs may have on public opinion.

"Our country is troubled and divided by a long and difficult war in Iraq," he said. "We want our troops to come home and be out of harm's way. And yet, most also know or at least sense that leaving chaos behind us in Iraq will bring dramatically more suffering for the Iraqis and also disaster for the Middle East and, ultimately, for us."

The defense chief's remarks come at a time when President Bush and congressional leaders are discussing a second war funding bill. Earlier this week, the president vetoed the first bill presented by the Democrat-controlled Congress, which contained a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq starting in July. After an attempt to override the president's veto failed, the Democrats dropped their demand for a timetable.

In his speech in Dallas, Secretary Gates said the U.S. armed forces have performed well in spite of funding constraints that go back to well before the current war.

"In fact, investment in Army equipment and other essentials was underfunded by more than $50 billion before we invaded Iraq," he said.

He said the ground troops of the Army and Marines have especially borne the brunt of under-funding and the human and material costs of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gates said the Defense Department is allocating tens of billions of dollars to repair or replace damaged and destroyed equipment and increasing the size of the active Army and Marine Corps by around 92,000 over the next five years. He said the department is also engaged in an effort to modernize air, sea and land forces for the kinds of operations to come, which will include both conventional and counterinsurgency type campaigns.

Among areas of concern he cited were the nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea and the "uncertain paths" of China and Russia, which, he said, are both pursuing sophisticated military modernization programs.

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