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Press Availability with Secretary Gates, General Pace and General Eikenberry in Kabul, Afghanistan

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, General Peter Pace, USMC, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and General Karl Eikenberry, Commanding General, Combined Forces Command, Afghanistan
January 17, 2007
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, sorry we didn't get to go into Kandahar, but the weather rules all, I guess. I really feel like I had a great visit to Afghanistan. I'm so impressed with all that's been accomplished here, all the positive things that are happening in the country; very impressed with President Karzai.

It seems to me he not only is accomplishing a lot, but is a leader with real charisma. He's got some very impressive people around him who are also impressive -- who are also very good, it seems to me.

I was really struck by the role of our NATO partners here in Afghanistan, along with the other 11 partners. I think it's a real testimony to the efforts of the Afghan government and what President Karzai and his team have accomplished that you have three dozen nations, including more than two dozen European countries, invested in the success of this regime, of this government here in Kabul. And I think that's real testimony to what they -- as I say, to what they've accomplished. And we appreciate all of their contributions.

I also obviously want to thank our men and women in uniform who are here, going up to FOB Tillman yesterday, meeting some of those troops. I'm sorry I didn't get to meet some of the troops in Kandahar. But it is clear, and I told President Karzai last night, America has sent some of its very best to help here in Afghanistan. And I would say that's true of both our commanders and the young men and women who are out there on the front lines.

I've also been very impressed with the partnership that seems to have developed between our combat soldiers and those of the Afghan National Army. I think there's real progress being made with respect to the army here in Afghanistan and the respect that our junior officers -- the captain who showed me around yesterday has for his Afghan counterparts and the willingness of the Afghans to fight for their own freedom was really significant to me.

So, all in all, I felt it was a great visit. I feel like I have a pretty good idea of what's going on here. It's clear that the Afghan government, the United States, NATO, our partners in Pakistan, have work to do along the border. ISAF and the commander let me know their views of what they think the requirements are in terms of forces. And we'll be pursuing that as we go forward.

General Pace, do you want to add anything?

GEN. PACE: Sir, thank you.

The secretary has pretty much given a complete rundown. I would just simply like to say to those troops who are about to leave -- and there are some going home right now -- thank you for the tremendous job you've done for your country and to your families for your sacrifice. You serve our country as well as anybody who's wearing the uniform. We appreciate your sacrifice this past year. And as the secretary said, it really has made a visible, tangible difference over here.

Thank you.

Q Mr. Secretary, you said you were going here partly to see whether the commanders had the necessary resources to deal with any upsurge in Taliban violence. And did you get a clear answer to that question, and how will you respond to that?

SEC. GATES: Well, I think that, you know, I heard from General Richards yesterday and I've heard from others what they think is likely to happen in the spring, particularly in RC East and RC South. They've indicated what they can do with different force levels. We will be going back to Washington.

General Pace will take those thoughts to the joint staff and review them with the chiefs and make a recommendation to me. And at that point I'll make a recommendation to the president. But as I said yesterday, I think it's very important that we not let the success here in Afghanistan slip away from us and that we keep the initiative. There's no reason to sit back and let the Taliban regroup and try and threaten the progress that's been made here.

Q To follow up, does that mean if General Eikenberry and others ask for more forces, U.S. forces, that you will send them?

SEC. GATES: Well, this is a matter that clearly has to be discussed with NATO in terms of what role additional forces might play, where they would be assigned. It clearly has to be reviewed in Washington in terms of the availability of forces, by Joint Forces Command and others, as well as the joint chiefs.

But clearly if there -- as I said last night, if there is a -- if the people who are leading the struggle out here believe that there is a need for some additional help to sustain the success that we've had, I'm going to be very sympathetic to that kind of a request.

Q (Inaudible.)

SEC. GATES: Yes.

Q How much? Can you use a ballpark --

SEC. GATES: Well, it depends on different scenarios. And I think those are the kinds of decisions that we're going to have to look at.

Q Do you have the capacity to deal with those numbers that you may have to put in, considering the surge that's going into Iraq? Do you have the capability -- does the U.S. have the capability to put in more forces in two different areas now, if not more?

SEC. GATES: I'll let General Pace comment, but I think we have the forces. What we have to look at is what the impact is if we were to add more forces here. Ultimately, obviously, it'll be the president's decision.

But General?

GEN. PACE: I didn't hear your entire question, but I got from the gist of the secretary's answer that you asked about the --

Q (Inaudible.) Are the resources and is the capability there if there is a need for more forces here -- (inaudible)?

GEN. PACE: Clearly any kind of deployment of forces is going to add short-term strain. The question is, what impact will that have? And you could very well see a situation where you're having success, like we are here in Afghanistan. You want to ensure that success. And for a short-term plus-up, you can have a success that will make it so you have to have less stress on the force for a longer period of time.

But as the secretary said, we're going to take the recommendations we received over here and have a good discussion both amongst ourselves in the U.S. military and U.S. government, but also with our NATO allies, because there's more than one country involved here.

Q Looking ahead to the next -- (inaudible) -- how important is it for the Saudis, the other Gulf countries, to get behind -- (inaudible)? And are you satisfied, I guess, with the amount of support they've given to Iraq so far? And taking it one step further, what would you like to see them do to kind of get behind that government -- (inaudible)?

SEC. GATES: I think that a number of countries have made commitments to the government of Iraq and to try and help economic reconstruction and development in Iraq. And I want to pursue the question of fulfillment of commitments that have already been made.

Clearly, just as many governments have become invested in the success of the government here in Kabul, I think it's important for other governments to invest in the government in Baghdad. And by invest, I don't mean just economically. I think that people need to make some decisions about choosing.

We have a government in Baghdad. It represents all the different parts of the population of Iraq -- the Shi'a, the Sunnis, the Kurds. This government needs, I think, help from other governments in terms of its own influence and authority at home. So I think that anything that other governments, both in the region and outside the region, can do to help, particularly on the economic reconstruction and development side in Iraq, would be immensely helpful to the Maliki government and to the Iraqi people.

Q Mr. Secretary, clearly the United States and Saudi Arabia have a common interest in confronting Iran's nuclear ambitions. What kind of common strategy will you be discussing with the Saudi king when you go there in terms of putting together some kind of common strategy -- (inaudible)?

SEC. GATES: I think, above all, I'll be interested in hearing the king's views on these issues and how the king sees the situation in the region, his perspective on these things. This is what I'm especially interested in at this point.

Q Do you need Saudi cooperation -- (inaudible)?

SEC. GATES: I think that we can always use Saudi cooperation in dealing with issues in the Gulf region.

Q Do you favor accelerating the training and increasing the amount of money for equipment to the Afghan National Army? And two, what did some of those kids that you talked to at FOB Tillman say to both you and General Pace yesterday? What did they ask for from you?

SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I'm very impressed by the progress that's already been made in training the Afghan National Army. These are serious people, and they want to go faster. We would like to see them go faster. I think they've already made a lot of progress.

I would invite General Eikenberry to comment, but I think that the progress that the Afghan National Army has already made has exceeded our expectations. And they would clearly like to accelerate. President Karzai has indicated he wants to see a larger Afghan National Army, which would mean more training and accelerating that training.

In terms of the visit to FOB Tillman, what impressed me about the American captain that I spent my time walking around with was his -- how much he regarded the Afghans as his partners, the Afghan army officers and their men. They really do feel like comrades in arms. And they rely on each other. They patrol together. And I think it was this sense of being in it together that this captain -- that our captain expressed to me that really made an impact on me.

Sam?

MR. : With the Afghan National Army, we're very proud of the accomplishments that they've had when we consider where they were several years ago, after 30 years of warfare, just trying to build an army from scratch, starting with 20 percent literacy rates and really nothing. And we're at a point now where we have over 30,000 soldiers in the Afghan National Army.

Very importantly, they're getting better and better leadership. And all of our commanders out in the field are reporting they're performing extraordinarily well. And I think we've got a lot of confidence in them that if we were to give them more equipment now and to try to push harder for faster growth of the army, we think that they're up to the challenge and they're ready for it.

STAFF: One more question.

Q Yeah, I'd like to ask you -- going back to the troops, NATO has not provided all the troops that they've promised. How are you going to get them to deliver on them?

SEC. GATES: Well, I'll have my first meeting of NATO defense ministers in Seville in just 10 days, thereabouts. And certainly one of the themes that I will be carrying is the importance of our NATO partners fulfilling the commitments that they've already made.

They are doing an amazing job in Iraq, and we're very proud and impressed with what they've accomplished. But clearly there is a need for them to fulfill these commitments, and I'll be asking them to do that.

Q Will their response have an impact on the increase, possible increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan? (Inaudible.)

SEC. GATES: I think I'd depend on the recommendations of the NATO commander, the ISAF commander out here, General Eikenberry and his successor and the views of the joint chiefs on that.

Thanks a lot.

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