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US military in interview block

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has ordered military officials to clear interviews and other contacts with the news media with the Pentagon after president Barack Obama sacked the top general in Afghanistan for embarrassing comments in a magazine interview.

Mr Gates' order, which is effective immediately, tells officials to make sure they are not going out of bounds or unintentionally releasing information that the Pentagon wants to hold back.

The order was issued in a brief memo sent to military and civilian personnel worldwide.

It does not spell out exactly how the new directive will work but appears to require hundreds or thousands of officers to funnel interview requests through a small central office at the Pentagon.

"I am concerned that the department has grown lax in how we engage with the media," Mr Gates wrote.

"We have far too many people talking to the media outside of channels, sometimes providing information which is simply incorrect, out of proper context, unauthorised, or uninformed by the perspective of those who are most knowledgeable," about how the information may fit into larger government operations or goals.

The order, first reported by The New York Times on its website, was in the works since long before General Stanley McChrystal stunned his bosses with criticism and complaints in a Rolling Stone magazine article that his superiors did not know was coming.

"We were not happy with the content, and we were not happy that we didn't know about it," Assistant Defence Secretary Douglas Wilson said this week.

Nonetheless, Mr Wilson promised that no Iron Curtain would fall between the Pentagon and the news media.

Gen McChrystal this week told the Army he will retire. In the Rolling Stone article, the four-star general and some of his aides were quoted criticising Mr Obama's war effort; Gen McChrystal complained that he was backed into "an unsellable position" during last autumn's long White House deliberations on whether to add more troops.

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