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American Forces Press Service

Gates Arrives in Afghanistan to Assess Progress

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

KABUL, Afghanistan, June 3, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived here tonight to meet with the new U.S. ground commanders and ambassador to evaluate progress and explore ways to make sure it continues.

“I think that things are slowly, cautiously headed in the right direction,” Gates told reporters during the flight here. “I am concerned to keep it moving that way.”

Here for his first visit since January, Gates said he wants to hear from Army Gen. Dan K. McNeill, commander of NATO’s Afghanistan operation. He’s also slated to meet with Ambassador William Wood, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak.

“I’m looking forward to getting their assessment of how they think things are going, both in terms of military action against the Taliban, but also the economic development and reconstruction,” Gates said.

The secretary said he also wants to see if the joint monitoring board designed to coordinate activities here is working as hoped. “One of my concerns is, we have 42 countries and 12 (non-governmental organizations) out here,” he said. “I want to find out if there is anyone really creating an overall strategy or coordinating their activities so we can make the best possible use of the resources that are out here.”

Gates said he’ll share discussions from the International Institute of Strategic Studies’ Asia Security Summit, where he asked Asian defense and military leaders to increase their support for Afghanistan. Gates traveled here directly from the three-day conference, called the Shangri-La Dialogue.

“I will tell them about some of the conversations I had at the Shangri-La conference, … some of the requests that were made, (and) my efforts there to get countries to extend or add to what they already are doing in Afghanistan,” he said.

Gates said the trip is “basically to get a feel for how things are going at this point and to ask some questions and let them know some of the activities I have been up to on their behalf.”

There’s still a shortage of about 3,000 trainers here, about two-thirds of them needed for police training, a senior defense official told reporters. “We are trying to figure out how to cover that requirement,” he said.

The European Union has stepped forward to provide additional troops, “but in terms of numbers, it falls far short of that,” he said.

The anticipated Taliban spring offensive hasn’t been as significant as in the past, likely due to preemptive efforts on the part of coalition, NATO and Afghan troops. “Obviously, we have been very successful in taking out some serious Taliban commanders,” the official said.

A big concern, however, is that the Taliban is increasingly turning to roadside bombs and suicide attacks in the fight against the NATO International Security Assistance Force here.

Another recent development is the discovery of explosively formed projectiles, or EFPs, in Afghanistan. The armor-piercing devices of Iranian origin were previously thought to be limited to Iraq.

“This indicates that our enemies are adapting and learning,” Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters today in Singapore.

The coalition must, in turn, adjust its tactics, techniques and procedures to this new threat, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

“The Taliban isn’t the only side that can migrate techniques,” he senior defense official said.

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