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Gates: Taliban’s Terrorism Reflects NATO’s Success in Afghanistan

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31, 2008 – NATO experienced military success in Afghanistan in 2007, and the Taliban is resorting to terrorist tactics because its conventional efforts have failed, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters today.

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Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates (left) conducts a news conference with French Defense Minister Herve Morin during Morin's first visit to the Pentagon as defense minister, Jan. 31, 2008. Photo by Cherie A. Thurlby

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Speaking at a joint news conference with French Defense Minister Herve Morin, Gates responded to a reporter’s question about assertions that NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan have fallen short.

“My view is that militarily, NATO has had a very successful year in 2007,” Gates replied. “The Taliban is occupying no territory in Afghanistan on a continuing basis.”

Gates conceded there’s “a rising security issue” there, but said “it’s because the Taliban are turning to terrorism, having failed in conventional military conflict with the NATO allies.”

“And so we are seeing more suicide bombings, more use of (improvised explosive devices), and so on. These are actions of people whose conventional military efforts have failed,” he said. “The rise in violence and attacks like we saw in Kabul are manifestations of a group that has lost in regular military terms in 2007 and is turning to terrorism as a substitute for that.”

NATO’s role in Afghanistan was among a broad range of topics Gates said he and Morin discussed during the French defense minister’s first Pentagon visit. The two last met in Paris in June, when Gates attended D-Day commemoration ceremonies in Normandy. The visit was the first to France by a U.S. defense minister in about a decade.

Morin said he and Gates shared similar views about Afghanistan and the need for a comprehensive strategy that includes more than military support. “The problem in Afghanistan is not only a military problem,” he said. “We need a comprehensive solution.”

Gates, however, emphasized the importance of the military as part of that strategy, particularly in light of rising terrorist incidents. He said he decided after consulting with President Bush to send an additional 3,200 Marines into Afghanistan “because it did not appear that that requirement would be satisfied by anyone else, and I wanted to take advantage of the gains that we had achieved over the past year in the security situation.”

The secretary repeatedly has pressed NATO to commit more troops to the International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan. He told reporters today that he and Morin discussed “a wide range of issues related to deployments in Afghanistan,” but declined to outline specifics.

Gates expressed appreciation for French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to Afghanistan in December and “his strong statement of commitment to NATO’s mission there.”

Gates said the challenge is to address non-military needs while confronting a rise in terrorist incidents. “The key, it seems to me, is how do we overcome this turn to terrorism on the part of the Taliban and, at the same time deal, as Minister Morin talked about, with the other aspects of concern in Afghanistan?” he said. “And that is economic development, governance, counternarcotics and so on. All of these things need to be addressed for us to be successful.”

Gates and Morin opened today’s news conference recognizing the two countries’ shared history and sacrifices and expressing hopes to build on it in the future.

“The bloodlines uniting the United States and France are much more powerful than discrepancies we might have experienced,” Morin said.

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Robert M. Gates

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