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Gates Plans Changes to Supervision of Security Contractors in Iraq

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he expects to order several steps to improve the supervision of security contractors working for the U.S. military in Iraq. VOA's Al Pessin reports from San Salvador, where the secretary spoke during a visit on Tuesday.

Secretary Gates said he read a report early Tuesday from a five-member team he sent to Iraq last week to assess the use and supervision of security contractors. The secretary ordered the review two weeks ago after contractors from the Blackwater security company working for the State Department were accused of killing at least 11 Iraqi civilians during a shootout in Baghdad.

"The report makes a number of recommendations on how we can strengthen our oversight of contractors working for the Department of Defense in Iraq," said Robert Gates.

The secretary did not provide details of the group's recommendations, and said he had not had a chance to discuss them with other senior officials. But he indicated he would like to make the changes the panel recommended.

"The recommendations from the group look very reasonable to me, and I anticipate that we will move forward toward trying to implement them," he said.

Secretary Gates spoke after a State Department report was critical of Blackwater for several incidents in which its agents allegedly used excessive force. An official traveling with the secretary says the Pentagon report did not look specifically at those incidents because Blackwater works for the State Department. But the official says the report includes an evaluation of how Blackwater fits into the overall security structure in Iraq.

Last week, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England sent a memo to field commanders, reminding them that they have the authority to supervise security contractors and the responsibility to make sure their rules for the use of force are consistent with the military's own rules.