Gates Discusses Asia Commitment, Afghan Casualties

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii, June 1, 2011 — There will be no “slack­en­ing” of U.S. com­mit­ment to Asia, even as the nation goes through tough finan­cial times, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said here yes­ter­day.
The sec­re­tary stopped in Hawaii on his way to the Shangri-La Dia­logue in Sin­ga­pore, where will deliv­er the mes­sage that Amer­i­ca is com­mit­ted to Asia at that annu­al gath­er­ing of region­al defense lead­ers.

“We are a Pacif­ic nation. We will remain a Pacif­ic nation,” Gates said dur­ing a short news con­fer­ence on the docks along­side the USS Mis­souri. “We will remain engaged and con­tin­ue rela­tion­ships with friends, part­ners, allies in Asia.”

The sec­re­tary also com­ment­ed on Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai’s stri­dent expres­sion of out­rage over civil­ian casu­al­ties in Afghanistan. The sec­re­tary said he did­n’t know the specifics of an inci­dent in Afghanistan’s Hel­mand province that caused Karzai’s out­burst, but not­ed that “this is a con­tin­u­ing chal­lenge we face in the war that we fight in Afghanistan.” A joint Afghan and coali­tion inves­ti­ga­tion, he added, will get to the bot­tom of the inci­dent.

“I think the joint inves­ti­ga­tions of these inci­dents when they hap­pen are impor­tant so we can mutu­al­ly fig­ure out what hap­pened and what, if any­thing, went wrong,” he said.

Gates also point­ed out that the Tal­iban have no regard for civil­ian lives and have been respon­si­ble for rough­ly 80 per­cent of the civil­ian casu­al­ties in Afghanistan. They are not even seek­ing to shield them­selves in civil­ian com­mu­ni­ties, he added, but are active­ly using impro­vised explo­sive devices to kill men, women and chil­dren.

“The Afghan peo­ple have put up with 30 years of war, and I think Pres­i­dent Karzai is reflect­ing the pain and suf­fer­ing that the Afghan peo­ple have endured,” he said. “At the same time, he and the Afghan peo­ple rec­og­nize that we are their ally, we are their friend, and we are try­ing to devel­op the capa­bil­i­ty to pro­tect them­selves so that the Afghan peo­ple can see an end to the prob­lem.”

Gates received a tour of the USS Mis­souri dur­ing his short stay here. He pre­vi­ous­ly had vis­it­ed the USS Ari­zona Memo­r­i­al. The Japan­ese sunk the Ari­zona dur­ing the attack on Pearl Har­bor that sparked U.S. involve­ment in World War II. The Mis­souri, moored about 100 meters from the memo­r­i­al, was where the Japan­ese sur­ren­dered to the allies Sept. 2, 1945, to end the war.

“Vis­it­ing this ship and look­ing at the memo­r­i­al to the USS Ari­zona the day after Memo­r­i­al Day serves as a reminder of all those who served and made the supreme sac­ri­fice for our coun­try,” Gates said.

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

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