Gates: Afghanistan Progress Exceeds Expectations

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2010 — Results achieved by U.S. troops “surged” to Afghanistan begin­ning last sum­mer have been greater than expect­ed, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said today.
“The mil­i­tary progress made in just the past three to four months, since the last of the addi­tion­al 30,000 U.S. troops arrived, has exceed­ed my expec­ta­tions,” Gates said.

Gates, Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton, and Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, joined Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma at the White House today as the pres­i­dent announced find­ings of the Afghanistan and Pak­istan Annu­al Review, released today.

Fol­low­ing the president’s remarks, Gates dis­cussed mil­i­tary suc­cess to date in meet­ing the president’s core goal of dis­rupt­ing, dis­man­tling and defeat­ing al-Qai­da in the Afghanistan-Pak­istan region.

The Tal­iban con­trol far less ter­ri­to­ry today than they did a year ago, Gates said. Dur­ing his last trip to Afghanistan a week ago, he added, he observed U.S., coali­tion and Afghan efforts across the coun­try and met with troops and com­man­ders on the ground.

“I saw per­son­al­ly how inter­na­tion­al and Afghan forces have halt­ed Tal­iban momen­tum through­out the coun­try, and are revers­ing it in their tra­di­tion­al strong­holds of Kan­da­har and Hel­mand,” he said. “The sense of progress among those clos­est to the fight is pal­pa­ble.”

Coali­tion forces and their Afghan part­ners in Kan­da­har have “tak­en new ter­ri­to­ry, cleared it, secured it and held it, and … are now in the process of link­ing their new­ly estab­lished zone of secu­ri­ty with those in Hel­mand province,” the sec­re­tary said.

While fight­ing in some areas remains fierce, he said, it is achiev­ing its objec­tives of revers­ing Tal­iban momen­tum.

“As we expect­ed and warned, U.S., coali­tion and Afghan forces are suf­fer­ing more casu­al­ties as we push into these areas long con­trolled by the Tal­iban,” he said. “Fight­ing in the east … has also picked up. But as a result of the tough fight under way, the Tal­iban con­trol far less ter­ri­to­ry today than they did a year ago.”

Gates said the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces have been cen­tral to the effort in con­tain­ing insur­gent activ­i­ty. The strat­e­gy review indi­cates growth of those forces in both size and capa­bil­i­ty is ahead of sched­ule, he said.

“More than 65,000 have joined the fight this year, and vir­tu­al­ly all of them are now rifle qual­i­fied, as opposed to only a third of them in Novem­ber of 2009,” said Gates, not­ing Afghan troops now are respon­si­ble for secu­ri­ty in the Afghan cap­i­tal of Kab­ul and increas­ing­ly are tak­ing the lead in Kan­da­har, where they make up 60 per­cent of the fight­ing forces.

“They are per­form­ing well in part­ner­ship with coali­tion troops, and will con­tin­ue to improve with the right train­ing, equip­ment and sup­port,” the sec­re­tary said. The growth of local secu­ri­ty ini­tia­tives is help­ing com­mu­ni­ties pro­tect them­selves against the Tal­iban while deny­ing insur­gents sanc­tu­ary and free­dom of move­ment, he said. As the review indi­cates, Gates said, Pak­istan also plays a crit­i­cal role in achiev­ing U.S. strat­e­gy in the region.

“Pak­istan has com­mit­ted over 140,000 troops to oper­a­tions in extrem­ist safe havens along the bor­der of Afghanistan, in coor­di­na­tion with Afghan and coali­tion forces on the Afghan side,” he said.

Gates said that while U.S. offi­cials believe Pak­istan can and must do more to shut down the flow of insur­gents across the bor­der, “it is impor­tant to remem­ber that these kinds of mil­i­tary oper­a­tions in the trib­al areas would have been con­sid­ered unthink­able just two years ago. And the Pak­istani mil­i­tary has simul­ta­ne­ous­ly been con­tend­ing with the his­toric flood­ing that has dev­as­tat­ed much of the coun­try.”

The sec­re­tary expressed con­fi­dence that the president’s goals will be met.

“While our progress in Afghanistan, as both the pres­i­dent and Sec­re­tary Clin­ton have said, is frag­ile and reversible, I believe that we will be able to achieve the key goals laid out by the pres­i­dent last year and fur­ther embraced by oth­er NATO heads of state in Lis­bon,” he said. “That is, for Afghan forces to begin tak­ing the secu­ri­ty lead in the com­ing year, and for the Afghan gov­ern­ment to assume secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty coun­try­wide by the end of 2014.”

The secu­ri­ty tran­si­tion already has begun in places such as Kab­ul, Gates added, will accel­er­ate in the spring and sum­mer, and grad­u­al­ly con­tin­ue over time, based on con­di­tions on the ground.

“I’d like to close with a spe­cial word of thanks and hol­i­day greet­ings to our troops and their fam­i­lies, and espe­cial­ly to those who are serv­ing in Afghanistan,” the sec­re­tary said. “It is their sac­ri­fice that has made this progress pos­si­ble. I regret that we will be ask­ing even more of them in the months and years to come.”

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

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