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Gates looks to smooth wartime political transition

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) June 10, 2008
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday he is looking for ways to engineer the first political transition in wartime in 40 years without crippling gaps in key Pentagon posts.

Gates said he has asked senior civilian officials to be prepared to stay on after the change of administrations so that there will be some continuity while a new team is being put in place.

"Now that's obviously up to the new president. But I hope they will have at least a choice ... so that the new secretary doesn't arrive and find that on the civilian side of the government he's all alone," Gates said.

Gates said that historically new administrations have vacancy rates of 25 percent in assistant secretary positions in their first months in office.

Backlogs in getting security clearances and confirmations through Congress add to the delays.

"I think it's a real problem and it has gotten worse with every presidential transition over the past 25 years, how long it takes to get a team basically in place," he said.

Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld often complained in his first months in office that he was running the department with no civilian support.

This time, a new defense secretary will be assuming the reigns in the midst of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, tensions with Iran, and intelligence warnings that Al-Qaeda remains active.

"This is the first transition in wartime in 40 years, and I just want to make sure don't drop the baton," Gates said.

Gates said he had asked "is there anything we can do to work with the Congress in terms of accelerating the confirmation process so we don't have any empty seats at the Department of Defense at a time when were fighting two wars."

One idea is that candidates provide names ahead of time of people who might be tapped for national security jobs so they can begin the security vetting process.

Gates said he has asked the Defense Policy Board, an advisory body, to draw up a list of critical issues facing a new defense secretary "from day one."

"It is obviously Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan," he told reporters.

But other issues that will need immediate attention are North Korea, the 2009 defense budget, a task force looking at how to meet the military's burgeoning demands for unmanned aircraft and other surveillance assets.

Gates spoke to reporters as he returned from visits to US air bases to tend to another crisis -- a slippage in the standards in the control of US nuclear forces that led to two major blunders.

Gates said there were also longer range issues "that may not be a crisis on day one, but he or she is going to have to start addressing pretty quickly," he said.

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Future US forces in Iraq don't threaten Iran: Pentagon
Washington (AFP) June 9, 2008
US forces which might remain in Iraq in the future after a general drawdown are not meant to be permanent and will not be used to attack Iran, a Pentagon official said Monday.

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