WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2010 — Conditions are in place for coalition forces to achieve their goals in Afghanistan, but whether achievements can be sustained long-term will depend on the Afghans, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.
“The key to our success is the continued expansion of the Afghan security forces,” Gates told reporters today during a White House news briefing on the one-year review of President Barack Obama’s strategy plan in Afghanistan. A five-page summary of the classified review was made public today.
“As the Afghans increase their capabilities, we can move in the more challenging parts of the country,” Gates said. One of the goals of the military strategy is to halt Taliban gains and reverse their momentum, while simultaneously building Afghan forces to take the lead against a weakened insurgency, he added.
No one knows now what security in the country will look like in July when Obama plans to begin drawing down troops, Gates said, but the right metrics are in place to ascertain if the goals are being met.
The military campaign in Marja, in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, “has taken longer and been significantly more difficult” than leaders expected, Gates said. However, he added, the coalition’s gains there have been so significant that security there is on target to transition to Afghan forces.
Coalition forces continue to focus on Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan and are making gains there against the insurgency, the secretary said. “They don’t have a free pass at this point,” he said. “There is a lot of kinetic action taking place on that border.”
The coalition’s increasingly strong partnership with Pakistan is critical to efforts to dismantle al-Qaida, Gates said. “The Pakistanis are the meat in the sandwich,” he said. “Everybody knows that failing to deal with the safe havens [in Pakistan] poses a real challenge. But I would argue that we are dealing with those safe havens.”
Gates said the review should be looked at broadly as to whether the administration’s strategy is working. “The whole purpose of this review was not to relitigate the whole strategy,” he said, “but to say, ‘How’s it going?’ ” The review also will help to improve those areas that continue to be a challenge, he added.
The review is important in helping leaders from becoming too ambitious about Afghanistan and to pinpoint those areas where the coalition can be effective, Gates said.
“The key here is to identify our objectives carefully,” he said, noting that the review and its metrics help leaders know what they have to do to turn over security to the Afghans with U.S. forces in the background.
“Our goal is not in building a 21st century Afghanistan,” he said. “Our goal is not in ridding the country of all corruption, which would be unique in the region. Our goal is to turn back the Taliban” so the Afghan government can take over.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)