Gates vows quick progress report on Iraq

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a House panel yesterday that the United States should know in a few months if the Iraqi government is making progress toward peace and whether the United States “is going to have to look at other alternatives and consequences.”

In stark contrast to predecessor Donald H. Rumsfeld, Gates also said there was no doubt the Army and Marine Corps needed to be larger if they are to deal with future wars and give troops enough rest between combat tours. “We need the full range of military capabilities,” including ground combat forces to battle large armies and nimble special operations troops to scout out terrorist threats, Gates told the House Armed Services Committee.

“We don’t know what’s going to develop in places like Russia and China, in North Korea, in Iran, and elsewhere,” he said.

Gates testified alongside Marine Corps General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as the House gears up for its first full-fledged debate on the Iraq war since the Nov. 7 elections. House Democrats plan next week to bring to the floor a measure that would flatly oppose President Bush’s decision to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq.

Pace and Gates said they did not think debate in Congress would hurt the morale of troops in combat . “As long as this Congress continues to do what it has done, which is to provide the resources for the mission, . . . the troops will feel supported,” Pace said.

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