Gates: Commanders Have Resources to Win in Afghanistan

MILWAUKEE, Aug. 31, 2010 — The U.S. mil­i­tary has fought two sep­a­rate wars in Afghanistan, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates told the Amer­i­can Legion here today.

The first war was when the mil­i­tary defeat­ed the Tal­iban and its ter­ror­ist allies in 2001–2002. The sec­ond war in Afghanistan start­ed with a hold­ing action in the coun­try and only now do com­man­ders in Afghanistan have the troops and resources nec­es­sary to win this sec­ond con­flict.

Gates spoke to the annu­al con­ven­tion of the Amer­i­can Legion – one of the nation’s largest vet­er­ans’ ser­vice orga­ni­za­tions. He said the inva­sion of Iraq dis­tract­ed lead­ers and divert­ed need­ed resources from effort against the Tal­iban.

This had a cost. “Start­ing in 2003, the Tal­iban regrouped, re-filled their ranks, re-con­sti­tut­ed them­selves in safe havens and re-entered Afghanistan,” Gates said.

Vio­lence against the NATO-led coali­tion, against Afghan secu­ri­ty forces and against the Afghan peo­ple increased sig­nif­i­cant­ly in 2005, “and has grown worse ever since,” he said. But a cor­ner has been turned, and the coali­tion now has the resources need­ed to stop the Tal­iban and give the Afghan gov­ern­ment the breath­ing room it needs to take con­trol. “The total inter­na­tion­al mil­i­tary com­mit­ment, when ful­ly deployed, will reach approx­i­mate­ly 150,000 – more than three times the num­ber when I became defense sec­re­tary four years ago,” Gates said. This num­ber includes 45,000 troops from NATO allies and oth­er inter­na­tion­al part­ners.

The coali­tion also has tripled the num­ber of civil­ian experts work­ing with Afghanistan’s cen­tral and provin­cial gov­ern­ments.

But, the Afghans must ulti­mate­ly accept respon­si­bil­i­ty for their country’s secu­ri­ty. About 85 per­cent of the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces are part­nered with coali­tion forces. They are learn­ing through instruc­tion and by exam­ple how to secure and hold ter­ri­to­ry, and allow the gov­ern­ment to take hold.

The Oba­ma coun­terin­sur­gency strat­e­gy is tak­ing hold, the sec­re­tary said. All allies are fol­low­ing the strat­e­gy that pro­tects the pop­u­la­tion and sep­a­rates the vast major­i­ty of Afghans from the Tal­iban and oth­er insur­gents.

As part of the strat­e­gy, the Unit­ed States will begin to bring troops home in July 2011. This does not mean the lights go off in the coun­try next sum­mer, Gates said. “As in Iraq, our draw­down will be grad­ual and con­di­tions-based, accom­pa­nied by a build-up of our mil­i­tary assis­tance and civil­ian devel­op­ment efforts,” he said. “If the Tal­iban real­ly believe that Amer­i­ca is head­ing for the exits next sum­mer in large num­bers, they’ll be deeply dis­ap­point­ed and sur­prised to find us still very much in the fight. And the real­iza­tion that we are still there and aggres­sive­ly going after them will impact their morale and will­ing­ness to con­tin­ue resist­ing their gov­ern­ment and the inter­na­tion­al coali­tion.”

The ene­my will con­tin­ue to resist, Gates pre­dict­ed, not­ing that the Tal­iban are ruth­less and cru­el. But they are pay­ing a price – more than 350 Tal­iban lead­ers have been killed or cap­tured over the past three months, the sec­re­tary said.

Yet, Gates said, vic­to­ry over the Tal­iban will not be an easy endeav­or.

“It will be a tough, hard cam­paign, with its share of set­backs and heart­break,” the sec­re­tary said. “The fact that we knew that our loss­es would increase as the fight was brought to the ene­my makes them no eas­i­er to bear.” He said the increas­ing casu­al­ty count is rem­i­nis­cent in some ways of the ini­tial months of the surge in Iraq.

Gates said it is impor­tant that Amer­i­ca stick with the strat­e­gy and con­tin­ue to sup­port the effort in Afghanistan. Ignor­ing Afghanistan after the Sovi­ets left put in place the haven that al-Qai­da used to attack the Unit­ed States, Great Britain, Indone­sia and many oth­er areas, he said.

“Suc­cess is not inevitable,” Gates said. “But with the right strat­e­gy and the will­ing­ness to see it through, it is pos­si­ble. And it is worth the fight.”

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

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