Gates Arrives in Afghanistan to Assess Progress

KABUL, Afghanistan, March 7, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates arrived here today to vis­it troops, meet with Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai and talk with NATO mil­i­tary lead­ers about progress made toward tran­si­tion­ing secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty to Afghan forces, set to start in July.
Pen­ta­gon Press Sec­re­tary Geoff Mor­rell said Gates will vis­it areas in region­al com­mands South and East, where he will meet with troops and assess progress on the ground.
Gates has set­tled into a reg­u­lar rhythm of Afghanistan vis­its, aver­ag­ing a trip each quar­ter, Mor­rell said. 

“Fre­quent, reg­u­lar vis­its pro­vide him with good mea­sur­ing sticks to deter­mine how rapid­ly progress is being made,” Mor­rell said, not­ing that the sec­re­tary has repeat­ed­ly said vis­it­ing forces in the field and get­ting their assess­ment of con­di­tions is the most impor­tant part of his trips. 

Those on-the-ground assess­ments have been pos­i­tive over the last few vis­its, Mor­rell said, with troops and lead­ers who are “tak­ing on the Tal­iban” express­ing con­fi­dence in their Afghan coun­ter­parts and report­ing improved secu­ri­ty con­di­tions in for­mer Tal­iban-con­trolled areas. 

Gates will meet in a long one-on-one ses­sion with Karzai, as he has done on all but one pre­vi­ous trip, when the Afghan pres­i­dent was out of the coun­try, Mor­rell said. Karzai’s gov­ern­ment has been work­ing to pre­pare for the secu­ri­ty tran­si­tion to Afghan forces, set to start in July and con­clude in 2014, the press sec­re­tary said. He added that Karzai is expect­ed to announce this month which areas will be the first to transition. 

More work remains to be done, how­ev­er, before any deci­sions are made about with­draw­ing U.S. troops, Mor­rell said. 

“There are more talks to take place and more work to be done once [Gates] is home,” Mor­rell said. “This trip will inform deci­sions to be made in the com­ing weeks and months.” 

While in Afghanistan, the sec­re­tary will also meet with U.S. Ambas­sador Karl W. Eiken­ber­ry and the two top NATO com­man­ders in Afghanistan, Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force com­man­der, and Army Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, deputy ISAF commander. 

Lat­er in the week, the sec­re­tary is sched­uled to trav­el to Stuttgart, Ger­many, for the U.S. Africa Com­mand change of com­mand from Army Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward, who is retir­ing, to Army Gen. Carter F. Ham. 

Gates will then trav­el to Brus­sels, Bel­gium, for meet­ings with NATO defense ministers. 

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

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