Gates Sees ‘Very Encouraging’ Progress in Afghanistan

COMBAT OUTPOST KOWALL, Afghanistan, March 8, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said today he finds con­di­tions here “very encour­ag­ing,” as he end­ed his sec­ond full day of high-lev­el meet­ings, troop vis­its and com­man­der brief­in­gs in Afghanistan.
Gates spoke to reporters at this out­post in the Arghandab dis­trict of south­ern Afghanistan’s Kan­da­har province after walk­ing through the near­by vil­lage of Tabin and meet­ing with elders, dis­trict offi­cials and the new crop of Afghan local police tak­ing shape in the vil­lage.

Gates said one encour­ag­ing secu­ri­ty indi­ca­tor he’s seen on this trip is the increased inte­gra­tion in plan­ning and oper­a­tions between U.S. and coali­tion forces and their Afghan army and police coun­ter­parts. Anoth­er rea­son for “cau­tious opti­mism,” he added, is the grow­ing evi­dence of Afghan coop­er­a­tion across gov­ern­men­tal lev­els and agen­cies, as demon­strat­ed in the Afghan local police pro­gram.

The local police pro­gram, as U.S. offi­cers involved with the pro­gram in Tabin and oth­er dis­tricts explained, involves the inte­ri­or min­istry, the Afghan Nation­al Police, dis­trict police chiefs and vil­lage elders in a sys­tem designed to recruit, cer­ti­fy, train, equip and mon­i­tor local police forces that are empow­ered to act only in their own vil­lages.

Gates met with vil­lage and dis­trict gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Tabin today, and said he was encour­aged by the sense of pride vil­lage elders dis­played at hav­ing their own res­i­dents con­tribute to their pro­tec­tion.

“It’s encour­ag­ing on the ground,” he said. “It’s been encour­ag­ing watch­ing it from Wash­ing­ton, but … as you’ve heard me say before, I think the clos­er you are to this fight, the bet­ter it looks.”

Dur­ing anoth­er stop, Gates said, he learned the provin­cial gov­er­nor had autho­rized a dis­trict gov­er­nor in his province to hire a deputy and a cou­ple of staff mem­bers.

“Even in that small area, they’re begin­ning to see Afghan civil­ian lead­er­ship [expand],” Gates said. “The dis­trict gov­er­nor, appar­ent­ly, is a very good man, but was all by him­self until fair­ly recent­ly.”

The sec­re­tary said he believes the pieces are com­ing togeth­er in Afghanistan, but that the gains still are reversible.

“The fight this spring and this sum­mer is going to be very tough,” he said. “We expect the Tal­iban to try and take back much of what they’ve lost. That will real­ly, in many respects, be the acid test of how effec­tive the progress we’ve made is going to be.”

If coali­tion and Afghan forces can sus­tain the gains they’ve made and expand them fur­ther, Gates said, “I think it will be a pow­er­ful mes­sage.”

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

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