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Media Availability with Secretary Gates at Forward Operating Base Connolly, Afghanistan

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates
December 07, 2010

                SEC. GATES:  Well, obviously, visiting these places and seeing these troops revives me, gives me a little new energy, but it's just particularly here they've taken some serious losses; this was the place where, I think, six of our soldiers were killed by a turncoat.  And I met with the other members of their platoon.

                And then just the opportunity to shake hands with all these soldiers and thank them for all that they're doing.  So it's been a very inspiring couple of visits in that respect. 

                A couple of questions, please.

                Q:  Secretary, you've heard some pretty grim assessments today from some of these commanders about what they're facing here, sort of in contrast to some of the more positive things that we hear coming out of others and particularly out of Washington.

                How did what you heard today, how does that bear on your input into the review as you go ahead?

                SEC. GATES:  Well, I didn't -- I didn't take what I heard today as being necessarily more grim than -- than what I've heard elsewhere.  I think these guys being close to the border do face some special challenges and have taken some serious losses.  But both from General Campbell and from the battalion commanders I've heard a lot of confidence and the feeling that they're making real headway.

                There is -- and on a selective basis, I would say, there is -- there is some good news in terms of local governance; they've talked to me about capable district leaders, Afghan district leaders.  But there's no question, being here close to the border that they're in a tough fight.

                Q:  Sir -- sorry.  With all the focus on Kandahar, do you think RC East has been put to the side, hasn't been given the attention it deserves?

                SEC. GATES:  Well, maybe in -- maybe in the publicity and maybe in the media, but it certainly hasn't been in terms of the allocation of forces.

                We've seen the surge come to the east as well.  And, you know, one of the things the battalion commander at FOB Joyce (Foreign Operating Base Joyce) was telling me, they're expecting two more battalions of ANA (Afghan National Army).  And so that'll be really important. 

                And one of the things that some of the younger officers were telling me today that also General Campbell was talking about is that in some of these areas the Taliban try and draw us in because we create -- our presence creates opportunities for them.  And where the Afghans can do this, it's much better for the local police or the ANA or the Afghan National Police to take the lead. 

                And so just -- I think the lesson learned here is that it -- you shouldn't generalize about Afghanistan and you shouldn't -- you shouldn't even generalize from regional command to regional command or province to province, that you really have to take it a district at a time and maybe even more local areas than that and diversify your strategy depending on the local conditions in terms of whether presence contributes to security or detracts from security.  And that may differ from one valley to the next, and I think that what we count on with experienced commanders like we have is -- and right down to the battalion level and below is being able to differentiate that way.

                Q:  You talked about the --

                Q:  Any response to the arrest of the founder of Wikileaks Julian Assange?

                SEC. GATES:  I hadn't heard that, but that sounds like good news to me. 

                STAFF:  Thanks, guys.

                Q:  Thanks.