Soldiers in Kandahar Draw Praise, Gratitude From Gates

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HOWZ-E MADAD, Afghanistan, Dec. 8, 2010 — The sol­diers of the 101st Air­borne Division’s 2nd Brigade Com­bat Team in Afghanistan’s Kan­da­har province are serv­ing at “the tip of the spear” in the war effort, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said here today.
Gates con­tin­ued a series of troop vis­its across Afghanistan, as he pre­sent­ed awards, and met with and thanked mil­i­tary mem­bers for their ser­vice.

“I want to thank you for sign­ing up to be in the mil­i­tary at a time when you knew you’d be at war,” the sec­re­tary told the hun­dreds of sol­diers on hand to greet him here. Mil­i­tary ser­vice always entails sac­ri­fices, Gates not­ed, adding that those sac­ri­fices are tougher dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son. As he has in three oth­er troop vis­its he has made in Afghanistan over the last two days, Gates asked the sol­diers here to extend his per­son­al grat­i­tude to their fam­i­lies for the sac­ri­fices they’re mak­ing. “You guys here are at the tip of the spear of the cam­paign of the last sev­er­al months,” Gates said. “It is a cam­paign in which you have tak­en new ter­ri­to­ry, cleared it, secured it and held it, and you are tying togeth­er the bat­tle spaces in south­east­ern and south­west­ern Afghanistan.

“This is a crit­i­cal part of our strat­e­gy and of the cur­rent cam­paign,” he con­tin­ued, “and you have been enor­mous­ly suc­cess­ful.” Gates said get­ting ser­vice­mem­bers what they need to accom­plish their mis­sions and come home safe­ly has been his top pri­or­i­ty since tak­ing office, and that he feels per­son­al­ly respon­si­ble for each one of them.

“The sac­ri­fice, the hard­ship and the loss­es that you take affect me more than you can pos­si­bly imag­ine,” he said, “and I just want­ed, again, to thank you for your ser­vice.” The 2nd Brigade sol­diers have been here for more than six months as the lead surge ele­ment in the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force’s Region­al Com­mand South. As Gates posed for pic­tures with all of the sol­diers on hand to greet him and pre­sent­ed them with his com­mem­o­ra­tive sec­re­tary of defense coin, Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez, com­man­der of Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force Joint Com­mand, met with reporters along with Army Col. Art Kan­dar­i­an, the brigade’s com­man­der.

Kan­dar­i­an said his sol­diers have been work­ing close­ly with Afghan sol­diers and police in Kandahar’s May­wand and Zhari dis­tricts. In Sep­tem­ber, he said, they began Oper­a­tion Drag­on Strike, a series of part­nered attacks on insur­gent safe havens in the Zhari dis­trict.

“The chal­lenge that we had here, of course, was last year. There was only one brigade of coali­tion troops in this area, and all the sur­round­ing areas and envi­rons around Kan­da­har City were infest­ed with the ene­my,” Rodriguez explained. “[Kan­dar­i­an] talked about one part of the job that he has done, but there’s been four dis­tricts around Kan­da­har City that have been cleaned out. We con­tin­ue to do some clear­ing, but already the ‘build’ [phase] is start­ing to hap­pen.”

With a great deal of help from Afghan police and sol­diers, the envi­ron­ment around Kan­da­har City has changed com­plete­ly in the past year, and secu­ri­ty has improved inside the city, Rodriguez added

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

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