US ready to defend interests in ME for decades: Gates
TAMPA: The US is ready to defend its interests in the Middle East for decades to come, even though the Iraq war has been tougher than expected, Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Friday.
Gates made the comments at a ceremony where Navy Admiral William Fallon was being formally installed as the new head of US Central Command, putting him in charge of American forces in the Middle East and Central Asia. Gates said the United States would continue to stand by its allies in the region.
The US is “dedicated to strengthening those commitments and defending our interests for the decades to come. And we will do all in our power to protect and defend our homeland,” he said.
Fallon is replacing Gen John Abizaid, who led Central Command since 2003 but is leaving as part of a reshuffling of Mideast military commanders by President George W Bush. Besides Iraq, Fallon will also oversee the war in Afghanistan, where the US and its allies are expecting a fresh Taliban offensive as the weather warms this spring.
“I am sure that General Abizaid would agree that not everything has gone as planned, as expected, or as hoped,” Gates said in remarks prepared for the large, mostly military crowd. “This is the nature of war.”
He said Abizaid realised early on that the fight against jihadist extremism “would be a long and difficult endeavour”.
Fallon, 62, takes over the job in the midst of a raging congressional debate over the administration’s strategy in Iraq, even as more US troops pour into Baghdad as part of Bush’s plan to bring security and stability to the country. “We need you again. You are one of the best strategic thinkers in uniform today. You are exactly the right person for this post,” Gates said.
During Abizaid’s tenure, Gates said, Iraq held three successful elections and its economy has grown. At the same time, however, the US military and its coalition partners have struggled to keep down the debilitating sectarian strife in the country and quell a stubborn insurgency. ap