Afghanistan — Gates Concerned About Pessimism on Afghanistan

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)