WASHINGTON, May 11, 2009 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the Defense Department will devote its “highest-priority attention” to the slaying today of five U.S. servicemembers in Baghdad. “I would like to express my horror and deep regret over today’s shooting incident at Camp Liberty in Iraq,” Gates said at a Pentagon news briefing. “I offer my sympathy and condolences to the families of those who were killed.”

As details about the incident continue to emerge, the U.S. military is holding in custody an American soldier suspected of involvement in the shooting deaths that occurred around 2 p.m. local time at the U.S. military base Camp Liberty in the Iraqi capital.

“We are still in the process of gathering information on exactly what happened, but if the preliminary reports are confirmed, such a tragic loss of life at the hands of our own forces is a cause for great and urgent concern, and I can assure you that it will get this department’s highest-priority attention,” Gates said.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen said the incident underscores the need for the U.S. to ramp up efforts to relieve stress related to combat.

“It does speak to me about the need for us to redouble our efforts … in terms of dealing with the stress, dealing with the whole issue of those kinds of things. And it also speaks to the issue of multiple deployments, increasing dwell time, all those things that we’re focused on to try to…relieve that stress.”

Gates and Mullen joined a chorus of defense officials that reacted to the incident with horror and regret, offering condolences to the victims and their families.

“Any time we lose one of our own, it affects us all,” said Army Col. John Robinson, Multinational Corps Iraq spokesman. “Our hearts go out to the families and friends of all the servicemembers involved in this terrible tragedy.”

The names of the deceased are being withheld pending next-of-kin notification and release by the Defense Department.

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