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Gates Urges More Asian Support in Afghanistan, Central Asia

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

SINGAPORE, June 2, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today challenged more Asian countries to step forward with the help needed to bolster new governments in Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Gates reminded defense and military leaders at the International Institute of Strategic Studies’ Asia Security Summit that success or failure in Afghanistan and other nations will have a direct impact on what happens in their own backyards.

“Whatever your views on how we got to this point in Iraq, it is clear that a failed state in that part of the world would destabilize the region and embolden violent extremists elsewhere,” he said. “The effects of chaos in Central or Southwest Asia will not recognize national, continental or regional boundaries.”

The best way to prevent that, he said, is to help Afghanistan and its newly independent neighbors in Central Asia become secure, fully sovereign nations.

Gates noted that some Asian nations are already part of the 42-nation coalition working toward that goal.

Japan, for example, is Afghanistan’s third-largest bilateral donor and has taken on the task of building part of the “ring road” that will connect major population centers and improve access to markets, healthcare, schools and jobs.

Meanwhile, India is helping financially and by building the new parliament building in Kabul. South Korea is providing help through a health center, reconstruction projects and a training institute for public officials.

In addition, Australia’s Reconstruction Task Force is improving local infrastructure, commerce and security, and New Zealand is leading a provincial reconstruction team.

Gates encouraged more Asian countries to recognize the stake they have in Afghanistan and to lend their help to ensuring it succeeds. “I would urge others to step forward with assistance to Afghanistan in the areas of governance, reconstruction and counternarcotics,” he said.

He called on Asian nations to help by:

· Promoting economic development in the region, particularly through infrastructure development that will provide economic opportunity and give terrorists fewer potential recruits;

· Welcoming Central Asian states into the Asian community, from its infrastructure to its security structure;

· Helping them fight terrorism within their borders that has the potential to spread beyond them;

· Supporting capacity-building initiatives such as providing advisors to strengthen government institutions;

· Lending counternarcotics expertise; and

· Providing security assistance, particularly through military trainers, peacekeepers and advisors to strengthen their defense establishments.

Gates emphasized the danger of allowing Afghanistan to once again become a failed state and potential breeding ground for terrorism. “We have learned the hard way that allowing failed states to turn into terrorist sanctuaries has catastrophic consequences,” he said.

That’s a message Gates took to the Munich Security Conference in February. “I emphasized to our European allies that the success achieved in Afghanistan so far should not be allowed to slip away because of a lack of commitment or resolve,” he said.

Allowing that would be a “mark of shame,” not just for NATO and its partners in Europe, but also for Asia, Gates said today. “This responsibility extends to the nations of Asia.”

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Robert M. Gates

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