Gates Says Coalition, Afghans Can Turn Corner in Conflict

KABUL, Afghanistan, June 7, 2011 — “I leave Afghanistan today with the belief that if we keep this momen­tum up, we will deliv­er a deci­sive blow to the ene­my and turn the cor­ner on this con­flict,” Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said here today at the con­clu­sion of his final trip to Afghanistan as defense sec­re­tary.

NATO ser­vice mem­bers salut­ed Gates dur­ing a short cer­e­mo­ny at the head­quar­ters of the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force Joint Com­mand today.

Army Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, com­man­der of ISAF Joint Com­mand, thanked the sec­re­tary for his many con­tri­bu­tions to the mis­sion. In turn, the sec­re­tary thanked the men and women from many dif­fer­ent coun­tries who came togeth­er to build the corps-lev­el head­quar­ters.

Rodriguez said Gates’ efforts have helped to wrest momen­tum from the Tal­iban, and that the secretary’s con­tri­bu­tion includes more than the surge that brought 30,000 more Amer­i­can ser­vice mem­bers into the coun­try. He also pro­vid­ed the resources need­ed, includ­ing “the intel­li­gence, sur­veil­lance and recon­nais­sance plat­forms that are pour­ing in here every day,” the gen­er­al said.

Gates cham­pi­oned the mine-resis­tant, ambush-pro­tect­ed all-ter­rain vehi­cles that had saved count­less lives on the ground in the coun­try. The vehi­cles –designed to pro­tect occu­pants from road­side-bomb blasts while nav­i­gat­ing over Afghanistan’s rough ter­rain — were deliv­ered “against all odds, and con­trary to many who said it could­n’t be done,” he said. “For­tu­nate­ly for us,” the gen­er­al added, “Sec­re­tary Gates does­n’t take ’no’ for an answer.”

Gates also ensured the resources were avail­able so troops wound­ed in any part of the coun­try would be able to receive world-class care with­in the first hour after being wound­ed – the so-called “gold­en hour” that great­ly increas­es their odds of sur­vival.

While Gates met with coali­tion and Afghan lead­ers dur­ing his three-day vis­it, his main pur­pose was to meet with Amer­i­can troops. He said he want­ed to take “my final oppor­tu­ni­ty to look each and every one in the eye and thank them for their ser­vice and their sac­ri­fice before I retire at the end of this month.”

The sec­re­tary said it was fit­ting that his final address in Afghanistan was at ISAF Joint Com­mand, because the head­quar­ters has done so much to turn the coali­tion effort around. “Two years ago, this head­quar­ters build­ing was a gym used for bas­ket­ball games,” he not­ed, and com­man­ders ran the region­al com­mands as sep­a­rate enti­ties, with each engaged in design­ing and imple­ment­ing their own cam­paign plans with lit­tle inte­gra­tion or infor­ma­tion shar­ing. To fix that, he added, he sent Rodriquez – his senior mil­i­tary assis­tant at the time – to build and lead the new com­mand.

“Rod tire­less­ly built this com­mand from scratch, along with some mem­bers of my per­son­al staff,” Gates said. “In less than a year’s time, this com­mand has made it pos­si­ble to syn­chro­nize oper­a­tions, set pri­or­i­ties and main­tain 24-hour sit­u­a­tion­al aware­ness. That’s made pos­si­ble all the gains we’ve made in the past year.”

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

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