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US Defense Chief Calls for a Balanced US Military Strategy

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Four months before the Bush administration leaves office in January, Defense Secretary Robert Gates laid out his vision for U.S. military strategy on Monday, saying the Pentagon needs to strike a balance between conventional capabilities and the ability to fight insurgencies. Gates also outlined some of the lessons he has learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine has the story.

Speaking to a class at the National Defense University in Washington, Secretary Gates said he believes America's ability to deal with national security threats for years to come will depend on its success in two current conflicts.

"To be blunt, to fail - or to be seen to fail - in either Iraq or Afghanistan would be a disastrous blow to our credibility, both among our friends and allies, and among potential adversaries," he said.

Gates said the number of U.S. combat units in Iraq will decline over time, but added:

"No matter who is elected president in November, there will continue to be some kind of American advisory and counterterrorism effort in Iraq for years to come," he said.

Gates said U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan are rising, and that the conflict there in many ways poses an even more complex and difficult long-term challenge than Iraq.

Calling the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan "forced regime change followed by nation-building under fire," Gates said the U.S. is unlikely to become involved in similar situations anytime soon. But he cautioned that U.S. forces will likely face similar challenges, and that it will be important to employ indirect approaches against insurgencies, and to institutionalize new and unconventional skills.

Secretary Gates also stressed that the United States may have to contend with more traditional kinds of threats.

"The images of Russian tanks rolling into the Republic of Georgia last month was a reminder that nation-states and their militaries do still matter," he said.

But the defense secretary added that there is no reason to begin "rearming for another Cold War" with Russia.  

Gates concluded his speech by asking the class of U.S. military officers to be modest about what military force and technology can accomplish. He urged the class to never forget the "psychological, cultural, political and human dimensions of warfare," which he called inevitably tragic, inefficient and uncertain.

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