Gates, Clinton Discuss Partnership, Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, Nov. 10, 2010 — Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton and Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates dis­cussed their coop­er­a­tion with each oth­er and answered ques­tions about coun­ter­ing glob­al ter­ror­ism in an inter­view broad­cast last night.
Gates and Clin­ton sat down togeth­er for an inter­view with Cyn­thia McFad­den, shown on ABC’s “Night­line,” while in Aus­tralia for the annu­al Australia-U.S. min­is­te­r­i­al meet­ings.

The sec­re­taries did not know each oth­er before then Pres­i­dent-elect Barack Oba­ma asked both to serve in his Cab­i­net short­ly after his elec­tion, they said. Their deal­ings most­ly had been lim­it­ed to Gates’ appear­ances before the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee.

“What I know about Bob Gates is that he’s a real patri­ot,” Clin­ton said. “He loves our coun­try, and that’s how I feel about myself. … We both have a high­ly devel­oped respon­si­bil­i­ty gene, we have a long his­to­ry of ser­vice, and we approach this job with a great deal of seri­ous­ness.”

Gates said his start­ing point in work­ing with Clin­ton was that the sec­re­tary of state is the prin­ci­pal spokesper­son for U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy. When prob­lems arose between past sec­re­taries of defense and state, it often was because the sec­re­tary of defense was unwill­ing to acknowl­edge the appro­pri­ate divi­sion of gov­ern­ment, he said.

“We both rec­og­nize that many of the chal­lenges we face require what we call a whole-of-gov­ern­ment approach,” Gates said. “And that means the State Depart­ment and the Defense Depart­ment have to work well togeth­er, and that sig­nal has to come from the top.”

Both sec­re­taries said they are opti­mistic about the U.S. strat­e­gy and oper­a­tions in Afghanistan. There is progress there and in neigh­bor­ing Pak­istan, they said, to counter the “ter­ror­ist syn­di­cate” that began with and con­tin­ues to flow from the al-Qai­da fol­low­ers who devised the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks from Afghanistan.

Asked why the Unit­ed States and its allies haven’t tak­en the fight to ter­ror­ist havens in Yemen or Soma­lia, the sec­re­taries said some work is being done in Yemen, but the focus has to remain on the Afghanistan-Pak­istan bor­der.

“That bor­der area between Afghanistan and Pak­istan is the epi­cen­ter of ter­ror­ism, because whether you’re in Yemen or in Soma­lia or in Asia or wher­ev­er else, they are get­ting encour­age­ment, they are tak­ing inspi­ra­tion, and often they are tak­ing guid­ance from Osama bin Laden and [Ayman al-] Zawahiri and their min­ions who are telling these guys what kind of oper­a­tions to plan, to keep their focus on the U.S., and so on,” Gates said.

The defense sec­re­tary said he dis­agrees with the notion that his­to­ry is against U.S. suc­cess in Afghanistan because of the past defeats of the British and Sovi­ets there.

“His­to­ry isn’t against us,” Gates said. “The peo­ple who have failed in Afghanistan have invad­ed Afghanistan. They’ve tried to impose a for­eign sys­tem of gov­ern­ment on the Afghans. And they have act­ed uni­lat­er­al­ly.”

With the back­ing of the Unit­ed Nations, the sup­port of the NATO alliance, and the invi­ta­tion of the Afghan gov­ern­ment, he said, the Unit­ed States has bro­ken with prece­dent on oth­er for­eign gov­ern­ments’ involve­ment in Afghanistan.

For her part, Clin­ton said she has seen “con­sid­er­able change” in Pakistan’s will­ing­ness to fight ter­ror­ism in the region, and that Pak­istan has proven it in lives lost to the fight.

Pak­istan has with­drawn the equiv­a­lent of about six mil­i­tary divi­sions from its bor­der with India and repo­si­tioned 140,000 troops on its north­west bor­der with Afghanistan, Gates said.

“They’re attack­ing the Tal­iban, but they’re also attack­ing the safe havens that are a prob­lem for us,” he said.

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

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