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Defense Secretary Robert Gates gives an encouraging sendoff to Marines from the 2nd Light Armored Recon Battalion, who are scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan within weeks, at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) Training Facility, in Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates gives an encouraging sendoff to Marines from the 2nd Light Armored Recon Battalion, who are scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan within weeks, at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) Training Facility, in Camp Lejeune, N.C. (Kevin Baron / S&S)

Defense Secretary Robert Gates gives an encouraging sendoff to Marines from the 2nd Light Armored Recon Battalion, who are scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan within weeks, at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) Training Facility, in Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates gives an encouraging sendoff to Marines from the 2nd Light Armored Recon Battalion, who are scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan within weeks, at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) Training Facility, in Camp Lejeune, N.C. (Kevin Baron / S&S)

With Defense Secretary Robert Gates observing from a watchtower, Marines from the 2nd Light Armored Recon Battalion, scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan within weeks, show off their skills at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) Training Facility, in Camp Lejeune, N.C.

With Defense Secretary Robert Gates observing from a watchtower, Marines from the 2nd Light Armored Recon Battalion, scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan within weeks, show off their skills at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) Training Facility, in Camp Lejeune, N.C. (Kevin Baron / S&S)

An "insurgent" at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) Training Facility, in Camp Lejeune, N.C., returns fire at Marines from the 2nd Light Armored Recon Battalion, shortly before they will deploy to Afghanistan.

An "insurgent" at the Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) Training Facility, in Camp Lejeune, N.C., returns fire at Marines from the 2nd Light Armored Recon Battalion, shortly before they will deploy to Afghanistan. (Kevin Baron / S&S)

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. — Defense Secretary Robert Gates for the first time commented on the release of internal federal documents laying out the rules and record of interrogation methods used on captured insurgents and suspected terrorists, saying his concern was “first and foremost the protection of the CIA officers” and any possible backlash against troops overseas.

Gates said he wanted to protect CIA officers who had “performed their duties in accordance with the legal guidance that they had been given by the Justice Department.”

“I wanted to make sure — I felt very strongly — the importance that they be protected, and against all different kinds of possible prosecutions.”

Gates was director of the CIA in the early 1990s. As defense secretary, his attention also turned to U.S. troops abroad.

“I also was quite concerned, as you might expect, with the potential backlash in the Middle East and in the theaters where we’re involved in conflict, and that it might have a negative impact on our troops.”

Gates said that he expected more information to emerge.

“There is a certain inevitability, I believe that much of this will eventually come out. Much has already come out.”

Gates stood amid the crackle of distant gunfire on Camp Lejeune after visiting with Marines of several units who are about to deploy for Afghanistan. He watched the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in urban assault simulations, the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment learning counter-IED methods, and the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion in combat lifesaver training.

“They are incredibly impressive,” he said.

Seeing them in person, he added, reminded him of the budget fight he is about to wage on Capitol Hill.

“One dollar of pork is a dollar I can’t spend to support theses Marines. One dollar spent on capabilities we don’t need is a dollar that I can’t spend in getting ready for future threats. One dollar spent for equipment excess to our military requirements is a dollar that I can’t use to help protect the American people.”

Answering reporters’ questions Gates also echoed the comments made Wednesday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton concerning the spread of the Taliban beyond the Swat Valley, just 70 miles from Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan.

“My hope is that there will be an increasing recognition on the part of the Pakistani government that the Taliban in Pakistan are in fact an existential threat to the democratic government of that country,” said Gates.

“The stability and longevity of the democratic government in Pakistan is central to the efforts of the coalition in Afghanistan,” he said.

Marines here were training both for the coming fight and their humanitarian mission. Gates said he felt both were essential, but has called for possibly allowing reservists with civilian skills to volunteer and quickly fill needed positions before permanent hires can be made.

“I think we have a finite amount of time.”

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