Gates Wants to Build on Success in Afghanistan
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan, Jan. 17, 2007 Progress in Afghanistan is impressive, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates wants to build on this success.
“I think it’s very important that we not let the success here in Afghanistan slip away from us and that we keep the initiative,” Gates said during a news conference today aboard an Air Force C-17 Globemaster III.
“There is no reason for us to sit back and let the Taliban regroup and threaten the progress that has been made here,” he said.
The U.S. government will likely request funds to accelerate army and police training in Afghanistan, Gates said.
Gates – along with Marine Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the outgoing commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan -- spoke with the press following Gates’ visit to Afghanistan.
The visit allowed the secretary to assess conditions on the ground and get an idea of obstacles and opportunities in front of U.S., NATO and Afghan forces, he said. It also allowed the secretary to gauge requests for additional U.S. forces for the country.
NATO commanders would like a theater strategic reserve for the country, according to defense officials. American commanders believe they could achieve much more with a small number of additional troops. All commanders in the country would like more personnel to accelerate the training of the Afghan National Army and the Afghan police.
Gates said he and Pace will take a number of options back to Washington based on what commanders here believe they can accomplish with different force levels.
Joint Staff experts will examine the different scenarios, and the Joints Chiefs of Staff will discuss the options before recommending a course to the secretary.
“At that point, I will make a recommendation to the president,” Gates said.
The request has to be examined in conjunction with NATO deployments and what role additional forces might play.
“Clearly, if the people who are leading the struggle out here believe there is a need for some additional help to sustain the success we’ve had, I’m going to be very sympathetic to that kind of request,” Gates said.
Pace said the Joint Chiefs will look at the benefits in Afghanistan, but also the effect additional deployments would have on the military.
“Clearly any kind of deployment of forces is going to add short-term strain,” he said. “The question is: What impact would that have? You could very well see a situation where you are having success like we’re seeing here in Afghanistan, and you want to ensure that success. For a short-term plus-up, you could have a success that makes you have less stress on the force over a longer period of time.”
Eikenberry said he is proud of the accomplishment of building an army from scratch. The army started from nothing, and now 30,000 troops are in the military.
“All of our commanders out in the field report that the Afghan National Army is doing extraordinarily well,” he said.“We’ve got a lot of confidence in them in that if we were to give them more equipment now and to try to push for faster growth for the Army, we think they would be up the challenge and they are ready for it.”
Gates said the Afghan National Army is manned by “serious people and they want to go faster, and we want to see them move faster.”
Progress to date, he added, “has already exceeded our expectations.”