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Secretary Gates Says Gains in Afghanistan Must Be Sustained

18 January 2007

Defense chief says U.S. is committed to long-term strategic partnership

Washington -- On his first visit to Kabul, Afghanistan, since becoming defense secretary in December 2006, Robert Gates says it is important for the United States and its allies to do whatever is necessary to sustain the success already achieved in Afghanistan.

Gates cited health care improvements, greater participation of women in government and strides in the provision of security as examples of progress in Afghanistan that must be built upon.

The United States is committed to the “long-term strategic partnership” that exists with the Afghan people and the 26 NATO member states that are working in Afghanistan to make further progress, Gates said during a January 16 press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.  These partners, he said, are “helping rebuild a country and a society with roots stretching back to the beginning of human history.”

Gates traveled to Afghanistan to meet with senior Afghan and U.S. officials as well as American troops assigned to support Operation Enduring Freedom.  Following a meeting with Karzai and General Abdul Rahim Wardak, the Afghan defense minister, Gates said he wants to ensure that successes achieved against the Taliban “not be challenged.”

On the security front, he said the Afghan army “is increasingly taking the lead in combat operations.”  He acknowledged that the number of attacks in Afghanistan along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border have increased, especially ones initiating from the Waziristan area.  (See related article.)

The security problem is being exacerbated by al-Qaida networks that are operating on the Pakistani side of the border, Gates said.  “Pakistan has been an extraordinarily strong ally of the United States in the War on Terror,” he said, and border control issues will need to be pursued with the Pakistan government.  “We will continue working with the Pakistanis to see if there’s a way that we can begin to reduce the violence coming from that side of the border.”

Karzai said 2006 saw a marked increase in Taliban attacks against Afghan and coalition targets. Gates said it is important to take action together against security threats from insurgents and if military commanders express a requirement for additional troops to serve in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, he said he would be “strongly inclined to recommend that to the president.”

Gates’ trip follows a visit to Afghanistan by Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher.

Gates’ predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, visited Afghanistan in November 2006, a month before Gates assumed his new position.

It has been more than five years since Afghanistan was liberated from Taliban- and al-Qaida-affiliated forces.  Highlighting social and political progress since then, Gates pointed to the increasing number of Afghans who have access to health care now -- 80 percent now compared with 8 percent previously.  He also said Afghan women, who were subjugated under Taliban rule, now hold 74 seats in parliament, “writing the laws that govern the society.” (See Afghan Women and Rebuilding Afghanistan.)

A transcript of the Gates-Karzai press conference is available on the Defense Department’s Web site.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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