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NATO on Offense in Afghanistan as U.S. Baghdad Surge Continues

05 April 2007

Defense Secretary Gates says "early signs are positive" on Baghdad Security Plan

Washington -- As a NATO-led spring military offensive is under way in Afghanistan and the coalition surge appears to be progressing in Iraq, leaders want to avoid premature claims of success, senior U.S. military officials said in a Pentagon news conference April 5.

General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also told Pentagon reporters that, during a recent visit to China, he was granted unprecedented access to headquarters staffs and the latest weapons technology. A possible hotline between Beijing and Washington also was discussed, he said.

Pace briefed Pentagon reporters alongside Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

In Afghanistan, U.S. General Dan McNeill, commander of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), has started a major military action, Pace said.

“I do not want to get into the specifics of the operation, but it will unfold very clearly here in the next couple of days,” Pace said. “If we disclose the size of the operation, it will tell our enemies what they might possibly avoid or not avoid.”

Anti-government Taliban fighters traditionally spend the winter months in mountain hideouts, then launch attacks in the early spring. Gates said that when he took office in December 2006, he was concerned “that the level of violence in Afghanistan during the springtime had increased fairly steadily over the past two or three years.”

He ordered a larger U.S. troop presence, and NATO commanders say they want to hold the initiative in 2007, with NATO making the spring offensive instead of waiting for enemy fighters to make the first move. NATO’s Operation Achilles formally launched March 6, and Pace said the latest military action is part of that ongoing operation.

Gates said that, with the United States focused on Iraq, he wanted to make sure “that we did not take our eye off the ball in Afghanistan, either.” He stressed that defeating the Taliban is just one element of international operations in Afghanistan, which also include economic development and promoting good governance.

“We’ve made strong progress,” Gates said. “We want to make sure that the progress that’s been made is preserved, and then that we move further.”

In Iraq, particularly in Baghdad, current attacks appear to be the work mainly of “death squads” and “hit squads” trying to undermine the U.S. and Iraqi surge of forces, known as the Baghdad Security Plan, Gates said.

“This is not a large number of people turning out on the streets and killing each other,” Gates said. “These are targeted killings by relatively small numbers of people in an attempt to stoke the sectarian violence and, frankly, to try and make the Baghdad Security Plan fail by hampering the reconciliation process.”

The United States promised an additional five brigades for Iraq, and the third of these brigades currently is moving into Baghdad, Pace said. A fourth brigade moves into Kuwait in mid-April en route to Baghdad, and a fifth brigade is scheduled to arrive in Kuwait in mid-May.

“The early signs are positive,” Gates said of the Baghdad Security Plan. He said General David Petraeus, commander of Multi-National Force-Iraq, accurately predicted the troop surge would be accompanied by an increase in large-scale bombings as insurgents try to undermine the security plan.

Despite positive signs, Gates said commanders want to avoid being overly optimistic or making premature declarations of success. “Everybody is being very careful,” Gates said. “I think that there is a great reluctance to engage in ‘happy talk’ about this. It’s a tough environment.”

Pace also told reporters that he had just returned from a visit to China, where Chinese military and government leaders sought to increase their openness and cooperation with the United States.

“They demonstrated their desire to increase the amount of transparency,” Pace said. “They took me to places that no other U.S. officer had been. I sat in an SU-27 airplane, which is their top-end fighter. I rode around inside their T-99 tank, which is their top-end tank. They showed me a combined arms demonstration. They took me to their private offices. They took me to their command centers and showed me their maps and their plans and their sand tables.”

China’s military leaders said they want to increase exchanges of military cadets, increase sea-based search-and-rescue exercises and “find ways that we can build trust and confidence amongst our junior officers, so as they grow up, they'll have long-lasting relationships,” Pace said. The two countries also discussed ways to “establish between Washington and Beijing some kind of a hotline,” Pace said, “so we can get on the phone quickly between governments to make sure that misunderstandings are taken care of.”

(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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