USA — Gates, Mullen Reaffirm Commitment to Afghanistan, Pakistan

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2010 — Con­di­tions on the ground in Afghanistan will deter­mine when, and to what degree, U.S. forces in that coun­try will draw down, Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates said today.

Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared on tele­vi­sion talk shows today. They explained Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Afghanistan strat­e­gy and the “July 2011” time­line.

“We are not leav­ing Afghanistan in July 2011,” Gates said on ABC’s This Week. Rather, that’s when U.S. forces hope to begin a “tran­si­tion process and a thin­ning of our ranks.”

Oba­ma announced his Afghanistan pol­i­cy in Decem­ber. Since then, the Tal­iban has been work­ing to strike fear into Afghans, say­ing that Amer­i­can forces will not be around after sum­mer 2011. How­ev­er, Gates said that hav­ing announced a time­line is not work­ing against the U.S. efforts.

“The pace will depend on the con­di­tions on the ground,” Gates said. “The pres­i­dent has been very clear about that. And if the Tal­iban are wait­ing for the 19th month, I wel­come that, because we will be there in the 19th month, and we will be there with a lot of troops.”

The U.S. forces in Afghanistan are work­ing to reverse gains made by the Tail­ban and oth­er mil­i­tant groups, Gates said, explain­ing the troops’ goal is defeat­ing al-Qai­da, not nation build­ing.

By deny­ing the Tal­iban and al-Qai­da con­trol of the coun­try, and by improv­ing Afghan secu­ri­ty forces, U.S. forces will pre­vent Afghanistan from becom­ing anoth­er stag­ing ground for attacks on the Unit­ed States, Gates said.

“We are not there to take on a nation­wide recon­struc­tion or con­struc­tion projects in Afghanistan,” he said. “We are in Afghanistan because we were attacked from Afghanistan, not because we want to try and build a bet­ter soci­ety in Afghanistan.

“But doing things to improve gov­er­nance, to improve devel­op­ment in Afghanistan, to the degree it con­tributes to our secu­ri­ty mis­sion and to the effec­tive­ness of the Afghan gov­ern­ment in the secu­ri­ty are­na, that’s what we’re going to do,” he added.

The way out of Afghanistan is through the Tal­iban rec­on­cil­ing on the Afghan government’s terms, Gates said. But the Tal­iban will not lay down their arms and detach from al-Qai­da with­out secu­ri­ty and gov­er­nance in place, he added.

“I think those are the con­di­tions … rec­on­cil­i­a­tion must be the end game here,” he said. “But it must take place on the terms of the Afghan gov­ern­ment.”

Despite July being the dead­liest month for U.S. troops in the entire 9-year war in Afghanistan, the chair­man of the Joint Chiefs said U.S. forces remain stead­fast.

The U.S. must con­tin­ue to focus on the Afghan peo­ple, and must show both, Afghans and Pak­ista­nis that the U.S. is com­mit­ted to their secu­ri­ty, Mullen said.

“We left Afghanistan in the late ‘80s, [and] we left Pak­istan in the late ‘80s,” Mullen said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “And we find our­selves back there now. Cer­tain­ly the ques­tions that are out there from the cit­i­zens … is, ‘Are they going to stay this time?’ ”

Mullen called the mis­sion in Afghanistan a region­al effort. The U.S. will be there for the long term, he said.

“I believe we’ve got to stay,” the admi­ral said. “We’ve got the right strat­e­gy, we’ve got the right resources.

“Sad­ly and trag­i­cal­ly, we pre­dict­ed this would be a very dif­fi­cult year, but we’ve got the right strat­e­gy and lead­er­ship, and this, over the course of the next year or so, is real­ly a crit­i­cal time.”

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

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