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Pentagon 'embedding' 500 reporters with troops

From Jamie McIntyre
CNN Washington Bureau

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Pentagon is moving ahead with plans to allow more than 500 news reporters and photographers to accompany U.S. troops as they prepare for a possible invasion of Iraq and Pentagon orders to field commanders call for "minimally restrictive access."

Officials say by the end of this week more than 200 news organizations have to notify the Pentagon whether they will accept invitations to "embed" with U.S. troops. (Troops are ready)

And by next week, U.S. military units will be notified which reporters they will have to accommodate.

The unprecedented number of "embedded" news representatives follows criticism that U.S. reporters were denied access to cover most of the war in Afghanistan, and is designed to give more reporters the ability to document what happens in any war against Iraq.

Pentagon guidance issued to field commanders two weeks ago orders U.S. military units to provide the news media, "minimally restrictive access to U.S. air, ground and naval forces."

The access is also being granted to roughly 100 non-U.S. news media from several dozen countries, officials say, including the Qatar-based Arab language television news service Al-Jazeera.

Other countries include, Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Hungary, Denmark, China, South Korea, Russia, Israel, India, Japan, Peru and Egypt.

The rationale for including the foreign media, according to the Pentagon's guidance to commanders, is to counter anti-American propaganda.

"We need to tell the factual story -- good or bad -- before others seed the media with disinformation and distortions," the guidance states. "Our people in the field need to tell our story -- only commanders can ensure the media gets to the story alongside the troops."

The news reporters will be allowed to accompany troops on the front lines, even if it puts their lives in danger, Pentagon officials say.

"Commanders will ensure the media are provided with every opportunity to observe actual combat operations," says the Pentagon's guidance. "The personal safety of correspondents is not a reason to exclude them from combat areas."

Over the last few months more than 230 media representatives attended Pentagon sponsored "media boot camps" to help them understand the risks involved in covering combat, and the amount of support they could expect from U.S. forces.

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