Robert Gates Makes First Visit to Iraq as Defense Secretary

New Defense Secretary Robert Gates, in an unannounced trip to the battlefront, said Wednesday he discussed with U.S. commanders the possibility of boosting U.S. troop strength in Iraq but has made no decisions about what to do.

On just his third day in his post, Gates journeyed to Iraq armed with a mandate from President Bush to help forge a new Iraq war strategy. His goal is get advice from his top military commanders on a new strategy for the increasingly unpopular, costly and chaotic war — a conflict that Bush conceded Tuesday the U.S. is not winning.

"We discussed the obvious things," Gates told reporters after meeting with top U.S. generals. "We discussed the possibility of a surge and the potential for what it might accomplish."

Gates said he was only beginning the process of determining how to reshape U.S. policy in the war. He said before making final decisions, he would also confer with top Iraqi officials about what the future American role in the country should be.

Gates spoke to reporters after meeting with commanders including Army Gen. John Abizaid, commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, and Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq.

Abizaid and Casey have both raised questions in the past about the value of sending thousands of extra troops into Iraq, where violence has been rising in recent months.

Several top U.S. commanders have been wary of even a short-term troop increase, saying it might only bring a temporary respite to the violence while confronting the U.S. with shortages of fresh troops in the future.

Asked at a news briefing about a possible surge of U.S. troops, Casey repeated his concern that "additional troops have to be for a purpose."

"All options are on the table," said Abizaid.

Gates and the generals did not cite any figures or timetables for a possible troop increase.

Among the proposals Bush is considering is buttressing the 140,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq to try to control surging violence in Baghdad and the unabated Sunni insurgency in Anbar province. Extra forces would also make it easier for the U.S. to increase the number of American advisers for Iraqi security forces.