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American Forces Press Service

Gates: NATO Stepping Forward for Spring Offensive in Afghanistan

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 7, 2007 – NATO is stepping forward in Afghanistan, and the feared Taliban spring offensive is being replaced by a NATO offensive, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during a news roundtable here today.

There has been a steady increase in the amount of violence that Taliban fighters have engaged in during the past two years, Gates said, noting the violence is centered in the eastern and southern part of Afghanistan.

“We anticipate that they would try and increase it further this spring,” he said. But the NATO nations “made a commitment that the spring offensive in Afghanistan would be our offensive.”

The United States added a brigade to the forces in Afghanistan; the British have said they will send an additional 1,400 soldiers to the country; Poland is finalizing plans to send more troops; and Norway is committing special operations forces to the fight, NATO officials recently said.

And more are coming. “A number of countries have either announced publicly or have told us privately that they are preparing to increase their troop levels in Afghanistan over the next several months,” Gates said.

In addition, the United States is committing more soldiers to train Afghan soldiers and police. “We are determined to take these guys (the Taliban) on and push them back,” Gates said.

U.S. and NATO diplomats are working with Pakistan to choke off border areas, particularly in the North Waziristan tribal region, where al Qaeda and Taliban forces are regrouping. “It is a problem,” the secretary said. “We are working together with Pakistan to address that problem.”

Gates said the actions in Afghanistan have to be classified an American success.

“I think the Afghan people would say it's a foreign-policy success by the United States, and I think it is one for us,” he said. “NATO and our other partners in Afghanistan are stepping up. Are they stepping up to the extent we would like? Probably not. But they're doing more than is being reported, I think, and more countries are sending in more forces.”

A challenge in both Afghanistan and Iraq is that the newly elected governments are trying to do something that has never been done in the history of those countries: create a government that actually serves the people, Gates said. “And the notion that they're running into difficulties or challenges when people are trying to prevent them from doing that should come as no surprise to anybody,” he said.

He said history isn't made at television time. The fact that European countries are in Afghanistan with soldiers providing security and engineers rebuilding the infrastructure is evidence that the international community is very supportive of the Afghan government and wants to see it succeed, he said.

The government led by President Hamid Karzai is still very popular across Afghanistan. “I see it as a continuing success, but a success that is facing challenges,” Gates said.

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