23 February 2005

U.S. Military Aircraft Are Not Flying over Iran, Spokesman Says

No plans to establish permanent U.S. base in Afghanistan

By Merle D. Kellerhals, Jr.
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- U.S. military aircraft are not flying reconnaissance missions in Iran's airspace, Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita said February 22.

The allegation made by Iran has been widely reported in the news media, but Di Rita said during a Pentagon briefing that the information was inaccurate.

"I would consider the source and leave it at that. I'm telling you that we're not doing those kinds of activities," Di Rita said. "To the best of our knowledge, it isn't happening: period."

Di Rita, deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, added that he speaks only for the Defense Department, but said he believes most other departments would give the same answer.

"It is our belief that it's not happening elsewhere either," he said.

Di Rita also said there are currently no plans to establish a permanent military base in Afghanistan. During a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan, U.S. Senator John McCain said he believed the United States should consider establishing a permanent facility in the country. McCain is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a Navy combat veteran who spent several years as a prisoner of the North Vietnamese.

Di Rita said McCain’s views on national security issues are respected, but "it's premature to even consider something like that. We are in Afghanistan for the mission that we're conducting, which is to continue to root out the Taliban and continue to help the Afghan government as it emerges through its own period of electoral process."

At the same Pentagon briefing, Brigadier General David Rodriguez, the Joint Staff's deputy director of operations, said that over the past weekend U.S. and Iraqi forces conducted Operation River Blitz in the Al Anbar province in Iraq to target insurgent strongholds, which resulted in the discovery of several weapons caches.

"This operation is another example of how combined Iraqi and coalition forces are able to conduct offensive operations to disrupt insurgent activities," Rodriguez said.

He added that the operation is similar to the November 2004 operation in Fallujah, in that the Iraqi security forces are working closely with the 1st Marine Division, though the size and scope of the operation is smaller.

The focus, however, is the same, and that is to rid the province of insurgents who are preventing security from being established there, he said. To that end, he explained, there is currently a dusk-to-dawn curfew in effect in the province.

Rodriguez also said that U.S. forces extended in Iraq in support of the January 30 elections would begin redeployment in the next few weeks. He said that the current U.S. force level of 155,000 personnel would drop to the pre-election level of approximately 138,000.

A full transcript of the Pentagon news briefing can be found on the Internet at http://www.defenselink.mil/transcripts/2005/tr20050222-2141.html.

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