Gates: NATO Commitment is Crucial to Afghanistan

BRUSSELS, Bel­gium, March 11, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates chal­lenged a gath­er­ing of 48 NATO defense min­is­ters here today to com­mit mon­ey and peo­ple, at what he called “a crit­i­cal junc­ture for our mis­sion in Afghanistan.”
“There will be hard­er and heav­ier fight­ing to come in the months ahead, and … many of the gains we have seen could be reversed if we do not remain ful­ly com­mit­ted to this effort,” the sec­re­tary said.

NATO defense min­is­ters and those from oth­er coun­tries that con­tribute troops to the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force in Afghanistan, along with Afghan Defense Min­is­ter Abdul Rahim War­dak, met to dis­cuss the Joint Afghan-NATO Tran­si­tion Board’s rec­om­men­da­tions for the first areas where respon­si­bil­i­ty for secu­ri­ty will trans­fer to Afghan forces.

Gates empha­sized three main items: ISAF accom­plish­ments over the past year; his con­cern progress could be threat­ened by unco­or­di­nat­ed nation­al troop draw­downs; and how to plan for a delib­er­ate tran­si­tion to Afghan lead.

Since the 30,000-troop surge Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma announced in Decem­ber 2009, addi­tion­al forces have “allowed us to sig­nif­i­cant­ly expand, and move clos­er to link­ing, zones of secu­ri­ty in the cru­cial south and east,” Gates said.

The Tal­iban con­trol far less ter­ri­to­ry and have lost much of their abil­i­ty to oper­ate, he said, and “a sem­blance of nor­mal­cy is emerg­ing for the Afghan peo­ple.”

Fierce fight­ing will come in the months ahead, Gates said, but “now, our forces will have home field advan­tage.”

That advan­tage will be threat­ened, the sec­re­tary cau­tioned, if ISAF nations don’t “main­tain the uni­ty and com­mit­ment … we expressed at Lis­bon.”

“There is too much talk about leav­ing and not enough talk about get­ting the job done right,” he said.

Gates said he rec­og­nizes the intense pres­sure many nations face to reduce their ISAF con­tri­bu­tions.

“We have all made extra­or­di­nary con­tri­bu­tions to this effort, in the face of fis­cal aus­ter­i­ty and polit­i­cal pres­sure,” he said, not­ing the Unit­ed States now has near­ly 100,000 troops in Afghanistan and spends $120 bil­lion a year on the war, while DOD seeks $12.8 bil­lion for build­ing the Afghan army and police.

Like many ISAF nations, the Unit­ed States suf­fered more casu­al­ties last year than in any oth­er year of the war, Gates said.

“To ensure that these sac­ri­fices are not squan­dered, we need to keep our focus on suc­ceed­ing in our mis­sions, and not get pulled away pre­ma­ture­ly,” he said.

Con­di­tions are right to begin draw­down in July, Gates said, but it must be based on con­di­tions and man­aged in full NATO coor­di­na­tion.

“We will not sac­ri­fice the sig­nif­i­cant gains made to date, or the lives lost, for a polit­i­cal ges­ture,” the sec­re­tary said.

Gates endorsed the tran­si­tion imple­ment­ing prin­ci­ples pre­sent­ed at the ses­sion as offer­ing “strate­gic reas­sur­ance to the Afghans and clear guid­ance for our forces.”

The prin­ci­ple of con­ti­nu­ity ensures lead nations for region­al com­mands, task forces and provin­cial leads remain account­able for suc­cess in their assigned areas through­out tran­si­tion, he said.

“Anoth­er prin­ci­ple, rein­vest­ment of forces, espe­cial­ly as train­ers and men­tors, would com­mit us to fill­ing a sig­nif­i­cant short­fall that has ham­pered our efforts,” he said.

Endur­ing suc­cess can only come through build­ing Afghan secu­ri­ty forces, Gates said, chal­leng­ing ISAF nations to pro­vide $1 bil­lion annu­al­ly to the Afghan Nation­al Army Trust Fund.

Rule of law is a key area, the sec­re­tary said, not­ing a gov­er­nance vac­u­um helped set con­di­tions for Tal­iban dom­i­nance 20 years ago and remains a prob­lem.

ISAF sup­port to Afghan growth of basic gov­ern­ment-pro­vid­ed dis­pute res­o­lu­tion in key areas, the sec­re­tary said, can help “fos­ter the rein­te­gra­tion and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion of for­mer insur­gents, and to com­bat cor­rup­tion that under­mines trust in the Afghan gov­ern­ment.”

In that con­text, he ful­ly sup­ports the pro­posed NATO Rule of Law Field Sup­port Mis­sion ISAF coali­tion nations are con­sid­er­ing, he said.

The mis­sion would com­bine liai­son and secu­ri­ty sup­port to Afghan and inter­na­tion­al civil­ian experts in dis­pute res­o­lu­tion, Gates said, adding, “If we don’t win here, the Tal­iban will.”

Gates asked min­is­ters to “abide by the prin­ci­ple of ‘in togeth­er, out togeth­er.’ ”

“Resist the urge to do what is polit­i­cal­ly expe­di­ent, and have the courage of patience,” he con­clud­ed.

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

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