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Press Availability with Afghan Press (Afghanistan)
As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Afghanistan, Wednesday, September 17, 2008

          Good morning, and thank you all for coming. This trip, my fourth to Afghanistan as secretary of defense, is an opportunity once again to express my support for the government and people of this nation as you struggle to build a secure and prosperous democracy.
          I had a frank and productive meeting with President Karzai this morning. I also met with members of his cabinet and other senior government officials. As I told them, I offer all Afghans my sincere condolences and personal regrets for the recent loss of innocent life as a result of coalition airstrikes. While no military has ever done more to prevent civilian casualties, it is clear that we have to work even harder. I have asked for a detailed briefing this afternoon about our close air support as well as our intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations.  I will also be talking with some of our pilots. You have my word that we will do everything in our power to find new and better ways to target our common enemies while protecting the good people of Afghanistan.
          Our interests are the same as yours: an Afghanistan where all citizens can strive for a better and brighter future without fear of violence and terrorism. To this end, the international coalition has increased its commitment to your government with more support both on and off the battlefield.
          President Bush recently announced an increase in American troop deployments – which comes on the heels of similar increases by our partners. All together, by early next year the coalition will have added approximately 25,000 troops since 2006. This allows us, alongside the Afghan National Security Forces, to go after more extremists in their hideouts and hold on to our gains.
          Ultimately, you are a self-reliant people who want to secure your own nation. So I strongly support Minister Wardak’s plan to expand the size of the Afghan National Army to 134,000 – and I will do whatever is necessary to ensure the proper training and funding of those forces.
As we all know, security is just one aspect of this campaign. Development and good governance are equally important. The international community is impressed by the goals set forth in the Afghan National Development Strategy – as demonstrated at the June Paris Support Conference when the United States and our partners pledged $21 billion in aid to the people of Afghanistan.
          This will go toward helping your government improve your lives – toward projects and initiatives like those pursued in the last few years. Projects that have:
          • Increased school attendance to five million children, five times the number of just a few years ago;
          • Built and renovated several hundred health-care facilities;
          • Completed nearly three quarters of the Ring Road;
          • Almost doubled electrical output since 2001; and
          • Given millions of people access to telecommunications for the first time.
          It is precisely these kinds of positive developments that the enemies of a free Afghanistan seek to undermine and destroy. They have increased terrorist attacks on civilians. They have gone after soft targets – roads, hospitals, and basic infrastructure meant to help Afghans.
          These extremists do not care about this nation or its people. Many are foreign, and they are certainly not freedom fighters. Their cause is not noble. Their interests are not those of innocent Afghans they murder on a regular basis. Just last week, they killed a provincial governor – a man whose only crime was to try to improve the lives of his countrymen. All they seek is death and destruction and the power to impose their will. And they will fail in their mission.
          When this conflict began seven years ago, few people predicted how difficult it would be – how much sacrifice would be required of brave Afghan citizens and their international partners. You have seen the face of the enemy – the ruthlessness and the determination. Let there be no doubt that the United States – and our many partners around the globe – are just as determined to help your country win the peace and freedom you deserve.