Secretary Discusses Drawdown Decisions With Troops

FORWARD OPERATING BASE WALTON, Afghanistan, June 5, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates today dis­cussed the upcom­ing draw­down in Afghanistan with troops doing the heavy lift­ing in the coun­try.
The sec­re­tary thanked sol­diers of the 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade here for their ser­vice in and around Kan­da­har, not­ing that 16 of the brigade’s sol­diers have made the supreme sac­ri­fice in the unit’s year-long deploy­ment and more than 200 have been wound­ed.

“But what you have done in the Kan­da­har area and the Arghandab [dis­trict of Kan­da­har province] is absolute­ly amaz­ing,” he said. “You have eject­ed the Tal­iban from their home ter­ri­to­ry.

“If we can hold this ter­ri­to­ry and expand the bub­ble,” he con­tin­ued, “then I think by the end of the year we can turn the cor­ner on this con­flict.”

Sol­diers asked the sec­re­tary about the first phase of the U.S. draw­down that will be announced short­ly.

“We’ll start that dis­cus­sion when I get back from this trip,” he said.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force com­man­der, will make his rec­om­men­da­tions, the sec­re­tary explained, and con­di­tions on the ground will deter­mine how many troops will leave when the draw­down begins.

“For my mon­ey, if it were up to me, I’d leave the shoot­ers for last,” Gates said. “What you’ve done is degrade the Tal­iban – that was one of our key objec­tives. At the same time, in the part­ner­ing activ­i­ties you’ve done, we’ve seen an enor­mous increase in the num­bers and the qual­i­ty of the Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces. The ques­tion becomes ‘What can you take out, and what is the risk asso­ci­at­ed with that?’ ”

No one wants to give up the gains that have been won at such a hard cost, and no one wants to give the allies an excuse to run for the exits, the sec­re­tary said. “I have con­fi­dence we’ll strike the right bal­ance,” he added.

Gates spoke fur­ther about the process dur­ing a news con­fer­ence with reporters at Camp Dwyer in Hel­mand province. He said it is not so much the start of the process that mat­ters, “but what the next year and a half to two years look like.” The sec­re­tary said he thinks all involved with the dis­cus­sion need to look at it strate­gi­cal­ly and not just focus on the front end and what­ev­er num­ber is announced in July.

“To make a deci­sion on July in com­plete iso­la­tion from any­thing else has no strate­gic mean­ing,” he said. “So part of that has to be ‘What’s the book­end? Where are we head­ed? What’s the ramp look like?’ And I think that will be part of the dis­cus­sion.’ ”

In the inter­im, Gates said, the ques­tion is when the surge forces should come out, and over what peri­od of time. He added that the mix of who comes out and which units are select­ed should be up to Petraeus and Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John R. Allen — now deputy com­man­der of U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand and Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s choice to suc­ceed Petraeus as com­man­der of U.S. and coali­tion forces in Afghanistan.

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

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