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)