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Defense Sec. nominee Gates: U.S. will be in Iraq for 'a long time'

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Deutsche Presse Agentur/RAW STORY
Published: Tuesday December 5, 2006

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US President George W Bush's nominee to replace Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld faced his first confirmation hearing Tuesday, backed by an appeal for quick approval from the president. Robert Gates, 63, a former director of the CIA spy agency, is expected to sail through the hearings by the US Senate's Armed Services Committee, setting the stage for his confirmation as early as this week.

When asked by incoming Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) if he believed that the United States was winning the war in Iraq, Gates replied with a terse "no."

But, later on after the lunch break, Gates "clarified" his response for the sake of US troops in the field who "might have misunderstood what [he] said."

"I want to make clear that pertains to the situation in Iraq as a whole," Gates said. "Our military forces win the battles that they fight. Our soldiers have done an incredible job in Iraq, and I'm not aware of a single battle that they have lost."

Gates said that the U.S. "is going to have to have some presence in Iraq for a long time."

Gates, who has headed a Texas university since retiring from public life, faced questioning from senators about how he plans to handle the war in Iraq, where the Bush administration is weighing a change of strategy in the face of sectarian warfare.

"I hope for a speedy confirmation so he can get sworn in and get to work," Bush said Tuesday at a White House meeting, shortly before his nominee headed to the Senate.

Rumsfeld resigned on November 8, a day after Bush's Republican Party lost control of both houses of Congress in national elections that the victorious centre-left Democrats cast as a referendum on the war in Iraq.

As the hearings began, the committee's senior Democrat, Carl Levin, told Gates he "will face the monumental challenge of picking up the pieces" of a failed policy in Iraq.

Gates served at the CIA for more than 26 years. This year, he served on a high-level panel set up by Congress to offer recommendations for a change of course in Iraq. The group is due to present its report in Washington on Wednesday.

2006 dpa German Press Agency