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Gates met with key U.S. leaders and President Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan

U.S. Defense Secretary Gates visits Afghanistan bases

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived in Afghanistan today for troop visits and meetings with key U.S. leaders and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said that although the secretary visits Afghanistan quarterly, this visit has particular significance because it comes a year after President Barack Obama announced the new U.S. strategy for the war and as the National Security Council assesses the strategy's effectiveness.

"So clearly, what the secretary learns here, what he sees here, what he thinks here will inform the discussion that is taking place back in Washington," Morrell said. "I think that coming into this visit, we have a pretty good sense that the strategy is working on the security side and elsewhere, but I think this [visit] is important to inform that discussion back in Washington.”

Morrell added that he thinks the secretary arrives here "feeling very good" about the progress in Afghanistan over the past year.

Gates' aircraft touched down at Bagram Airfield at about noon local time, and his party immediately boarded helicopters for a flight to Forward Operating Base Joyce for an operations briefing and a visit with soldiers of the 1st and 2nd Battalions, 327th Infantry Regiment.

From there, the secretary was scheduled to fly to Forward Operating Base Connolly. There, he'll meet with 18 soldiers who lost six members of their platoon Nov. 29 when an Afghan border guard opened fire on them. He'll also meet with soldiers of the 1st Squadron, 61st Cavalry.

Later, Gates will meet in the Afghan capital of Kabul with Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, International Security Assistance Force commander; Army Gen. David Rodriguez, commander of ISAF Joint Command; and U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Karl W. Eikenberry.

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