Afghanistan Strategy is Working, Gates Says

KABUL, Dec. 8, 2010 — Not­ing that more progress than expect­ed has tak­en place in Afghanistan over the past year, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates today expressed con­fi­dence that Afghan forces will be able to take the lead for secu­ri­ty through­out the coun­try by the end of 2014.
Speak­ing at a news con­fer­ence with Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai at the pres­i­den­tial palace here, Gates not­ed that when he returns to Wash­ing­ton, work will be fin­ish­ing on a U.S. gov­ern­ment eval­u­a­tion of the sit­u­a­tion in Afghanistan.

“I will go back con­vinced that our strat­e­gy is work­ing,” he said.

Gates added that he believes Afghan forces — who already are respon­si­ble for secu­ri­ty in and around the Afghan cap­i­tal of Kab­ul — can begin tak­ing the lead for more and more areas in the com­ing year, achiev­ing the goal set last year by Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma that the Afghan gov­ern­ment will be ready to take the lead for the entire nation’s secu­ri­ty by the end of 2014, a goal Karzai was the first to advance. NATO heads of state embraced those tar­gets at the alliance’s recent sum­mit meet­ing in Lis­bon, Por­tu­gal, Gates not­ed. The sec­re­tary said the 65,000 addi­tion­al Afghan forces, 30,000 new U.S. forces and 10,000 more forces from coali­tion nations added to the mix over the past year have paid div­i­dends.

“The bot­tom line is that in the last 12 months, we have come a long way,” he said. “Frankly, progress — even just in the last few months — has exceed­ed my expec­ta­tions.” The Tal­iban con­trol far less ter­ri­to­ry than they did a year ago, Gates said, and more and more Afghan peo­ple can live with­out being ter­ror­ized and are focused instead on build­ing a bet­ter life for them­selves and their fam­i­lies.

Gates said he has spent the past two days in Afghanistan get­ting a ground-lev­el view of how U.S. and coali­tion forces are work­ing with their Afghan part­ners. The forces, he said, are work­ing togeth­er at “an extra­or­di­nary pace” in areas where Afghan and coali­tion forces had lit­tle or no pres­ence a year ago, as Afghan forces are increas­ing­ly in the lead. “In fact, where I vis­it­ed today in the south, Afghan sol­diers make up 60 per­cent of fight­ing forces and are per­form­ing admirably,” he said. Though, as expect­ed, Afghan and coali­tion forces are suf­fer­ing more casu­al­ties, “there is no deny­ing that the secu­ri­ty is improv­ing and that the sac­ri­fices of Afghan and coali­tion troops are achiev­ing greater safe­ty and secu­ri­ty for both our nations,” the sec­re­tary said.

As the Tal­iban influ­ence con­tin­ues to weak­en, Gates said, so too does the chance that al-Qai­da will return to Afghanistan to plot attacks against the Unit­ed States and oth­er nations.

The sec­re­tary acknowl­edged that despite the progress so far, much more needs to be done, espe­cial­ly in improv­ing gov­er­nance and eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment. In their meet­ing before the news con­fer­ence, the sec­re­tary said, he and Karzai dis­cussed the need for inter­na­tion­al efforts to reflect more con­sis­tent­ly the needs, desires and pri­or­i­ties of the Afghan peo­ple, with input from Afghans.

“I want to empha­size that as Pres­i­dent Oba­ma has stat­ed, the com­mit­ment of the Unit­ed States to the peo­ple of Afghanistan is res­olute and endur­ing,” Gates said. “We are work­ing togeth­er on Joint Vision 2015 to set the frame­work for this long-term part­ner­ship.

“We share our part­ner Pres­i­dent Karzai’s vision for a strong and secure Afghanistan,” he con­tin­ued, “and believe our joint suc­cess will be crit­i­cal in the future of the Afghan peo­ple, for the sta­bil­i­ty of the region, and for the long-term secu­ri­ty inter­ests of Amer­i­ca and its allies.”

Karzai said he and Gates had a con­struc­tive dis­cus­sion today that focused on tran­si­tion of secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty and on recon­struc­tion and rebuild­ing in Afghanistan. The two men con­tin­ued their dis­cus­sion over din­ner after the news con­fer­ence.

Ear­li­er today, Gates vis­it­ed U.S. Marines at Camp Leath­er­neck in Hel­mand province and U.S. sol­diers at For­ward Oper­at­ing Base Howz-E Madad in Kan­da­har province. Yes­ter­day, he vis­it­ed troops at two bases in east­ern Afghanistan. Ear­li­er this week, the sec­re­tary spent a day and a night aboard the USS Abra­ham Lin­coln off the coast of Oman.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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