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Gates Seeks More Afghanistan Support at Asia Security Summit

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

SINGAPORE, May 31, 2008 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates continued his quest to get more Asian countries to step forward and help in Afghanistan during a series of bilateral meetings here today at the International Institute of Strategic Studies’ Asia Security Summit.

Talks about operations in Afghanistan as well as Iraq played prominently in most of Gates’ six formal and informal “pull-aside” sessions today, a senior defense official told reporters. The same issues are expected to arise again during three additional bilateral meetings.

Unlike last year’s summit, during which Gates took his case to the full body during his keynote address, this year he used a lower-profile, personal approach during meetings with his counterparts from Japan and Singapore, as well as Great Britain and France.

Japanese Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba “focused a great deal on Afghanistan and the global war on terror and what more, if anything, the Japanese can do to increase their participation in that effort,” the official said.

Later in the day, Gates pressed Singaporean Defense Minister Teo Chee Hean to tap into his country’s helicopter fleet to support Afghanistan operations. “We are always in need of additional heavy lift, and the secretary made the case that helicopter transport in Afghanistan literally saves lives,” the official said.

Gates thanked two European participants at the conference during separate bilateral sessions for their roles in the NATO International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan, and explored ways to enhance the effort.

He urged French Defense Minister Herve Morin to consider deploying French troops to join U.S. Special Forces serving in Afghanistan, and also discussed operations in Iraq, the official said.

British Defense Minister Desmond Browne, just back from visits to Afghanistan and Iraq, “couldn’t speak more highly” to Gates about the U.S. 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit’s performance in the Regional Command South sector of Afghanistan, the official said. “He was astonished by how much they had accomplished in so short a period of time,” the official added.

In discussions about Iraq, Browne and Gates focused on the status-of-forces agreement being negotiated with the Iraqi government, which will affect how British and U.S. forces operate there, the official said.

During last year’s security summit, Gates reminded participants during his keynote address that success or failure in Afghanistan will have a direct impact on what happens in their own back yards. He urged them to do their part to help Afghanistan become a secure, fully sovereign nation, and noted Asian countries such as Japan, Australia and Indian that already are assisting.

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 told them.

Two additional sessions today -- with Philippine Defense Secretary Gilberto Theodoro Jr. and Chinese Lt. Gen. M.A. Xiatian, deputy chief of general staff for the People’s Liberation Army -- focused on issues other than Afghanistan and Iraq.

Gates and Theordoro discussed the Philippines’ defense reform and counterterrorism efforts. The discussion with Xiatian concentrated on response efforts following a deadly May 12 earthquake in China’s Sichuan province. Xiatian thanked Gates for the prompt U.S. military response provided, and agreed with Gates that more military-to-military exchanges between the two countries can enhance their abilities to cooperate in disaster relief, the official said.

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Robert M. Gates

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