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Afghanistan strategy is working, U.S. Secretary of Defense Gates said
Noting that more progress than expected has taken place in Afghanistan over the past year, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today expressed confidence that Afghan forces will be able to take the lead for security throughout the country by the end of 2014.
Speaking at a news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the presidential palace here, Gates noted that when he returns to Washington, work will be finishing on a U.S. government evaluation of the situation in Afghanistan.
“I will go back convinced that our strategy is working,” he said.
Gates added that he believes Afghan forces -- who already are responsible for security in and around the Afghan capital of Kabul -- can begin taking the lead for more and more areas in the coming year, achieving the goal set last year by President Barack Obama that the Afghan government will be ready to take the lead for the entire nation’s security by the end of 2014, a goal Karzai was the first to advance.
NATO heads of state embraced those targets at the alliance’s recent summit meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, Gates noted.
The secretary said the 65,000 additional Afghan forces, 30,000 new U.S. forces and 10,000 more forces from coalition nations added to the mix over the past year have paid dividends.
“The bottom line is that in the last 12 months, we have come a long way,” he said. “Frankly, progress -- even just in the last few months -- has exceeded my expectations.”
The Taliban control far less territory than they did a year ago, Gates said, and more and more Afghan people can live without being terrorized and are focused instead on building a better life for themselves and their families.
Gates said he has spent the past two days in Afghanistan getting a ground-level view of how U.S. and coalition forces are working with their Afghan partners. The forces, he said, are working together at “an extraordinary pace” in areas where Afghan and coalition forces had little or no presence a year ago, as Afghan forces are increasingly in the lead.
“In fact, where I visited today in the south, Afghan soldiers make up 60 percent of fighting forces and are performing admirably,” he said.
Though, as expected, Afghan and coalition forces are suffering more casualties, “there is no denying that the security is improving and that the sacrifices of Afghan and coalition troops are achieving greater safety and security for both our nations,” the secretary said.
As the Taliban influence continues to weaken, Gates said, so too does the chance that al-Qaida will return to Afghanistan to plot attacks against the United States and other nations.
The secretary acknowledged that despite the progress so far, much more needs to be done, especially in improving governance and economic development. In their meeting before the news conference, the secretary said, he and Karzai discussed the need for international efforts to reflect more consistently the needs, desires and priorities of the Afghan people, with input from Afghans.
“I want to emphasize that as President Obama has stated, the commitment of the United States to the people of Afghanistan is resolute and enduring,” Gates said. “We are working together on Joint Vision 2015 to set the framework for this long-term partnership.
“We share our partner President Karzai’s vision for a strong and secure Afghanistan,” he continued, “and believe our joint success will be critical in the future of the Afghan people, for the stability of the region, and for the long-term security interests of America and its allies.”
Karzai said he and Gates had a constructive discussion today that focused on transition of security responsibility and on reconstruction and rebuilding in Afghanistan. The two men continued their discussion over dinner after the news conference.
Earlier today, Gates visited U.S. Marines at Camp Leatherneck in Helmand province and U.S. soldiers at Forward Operating Base Howz-E Madad in Kandahar province. Yesterday, he visited troops at two bases in eastern Afghanistan. Earlier this week, the secretary spent a day and a night aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln off the coast of Oman.
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