Gates Sees ‘Positive Direction’ in Afghanistan
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Sept. 3, 2010 Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he is encouraged by what he saw during a visit with troops here today.
Gates said he was buoyed by witnessing the partnership between Afghan, coalition and U.S. security forces, and the knowledge that junior and senior U.S. military officers understand the Afghanistan strategy.
And, U.S. troops serving in Afghanistan believe they’re making a difference and are achieving progress, the secretary said.
“It all points in a positive direction,” Gates said.
However, there’s more fighting ahead, Gates acknowledged. The two units the secretary visited today have lost people and incurred wounded. He awarded Purple Heart medals to several 101st Airborne Division soldiers at Combat Outpost Seranjay.
“There will be more casualties,” Gates said. “They face a resilient enemy, but … [American forces] know what [they’re] doing here, they know what they’re supposed to do, they understand the importance of partnering, and they understand the importance of getting the Afghans in the lead as soon as possible.”
The secretary said the soldiers and sailors he met in and around Kandahar lived their mission. “In terms of understanding what we need to do, we’re a long way ahead of where we were a year or two or three ago,” Gates said.
“There is a lot of hard fighting to go, but the confidence of these young men and women that they can be successful, in turn, gives me confidence.”
NATO will host a Summit in Lisbon in November and the U.S. government will conduct an Afghanistan strategy review in December. Both will be important to the effort in Afghanistan. Gates said he believes there could be enough evidence of progress at that time, “to determine whether we are on the right track, and based on what I’ve seen here today, I’m hopeful that we will be in that position.”
Gates said the soldiers he met at Combat Outpost Seranjay were pretty imperturbable.
“I had lunch with a bunch of junior enlisted today, and the biggest complaints I got from them was that their wireless is down, and their dryers are working OK, but four of their five washing machines are not,” the secretary said. “I also heard about the same problem I heard the last time I was in Afghanistan, and that is the trousers of the [Army camouflage uniform] aren’t strong enough.”