WASHINGTON, June 17, 2010 — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is concerned about emerging public pessimism and cynicism regarding the outcome of U.S. operations in Afghanistan, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said here today.
Gates says Americans need to remember what was happening in Afghanistan a year ago to appreciate how far the country has progressed since then, Morrell said.
“I don’t know that he’s laying the blame with anyone in particular,” the press secretary said. “It just seems as though there is a great deal of not just skepticism, but cynicism about … our operations there, and an effort to prematurely judge the outcome of the strategy.”
Morrell stressed that last year, the Taliban had increased their control over many areas in the country. The Taliban controlled whole swaths of Regional Command – South and the trend in Regional Command – North was going in the wrong direction.
“In the year since, that growth has been halted, and we are taking back territory from the Taliban,” Morrell said. “Their momentum has been thwarted, but it is still far too soon for us to say it has swung completely in our favor.”
The International Security Assistance Force and the Afghan National Security Forces have regained the initiative and continue to make headway, he said.
“But I would remind you that this new strategy has really only been under way in earnest for a few months now, and the full complement of surge forces are not in theater yet,” Morrell said. “And not all of those that are in theater are yet in the fight. So we need to give, I think, the strategy a chance to work.”
Still, the clock is ticking, Morrell acknowledged. “The American people and those of our coalition partners are growing tired of war,” he said. “After all, we’ve been at this for nearly nine years.”
There is time to prove that the plan is working, Morrell said. There will be a study of the strategy and its effectiveness at the end of the year. By then, officials should be able to judge how the strategy is progressing.
What’s more, there is a year before the July 2011 transition date, when coalition forces begin to turn over responsibility to Afghan National Security Forces.
“A lot can happen in a year,” Morrell said. “We have a lot of work to do, no doubt, between now and then. But there is still a lot of time left on the clock for us … to change the conditions on the ground.
“And the conditions on the ground, I would remind you, are what are going to determine the pace and the breadth of the drawdowns to come in July 2011,” he said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)