Remarks by Secretary Gates During Troop Visit at Forward Operating Base Andar, Ghazni Province, Afghanistan
It's a pleasure to be here visiting Task Force Ramrod for the --(inaudible) -- of our friends in the press, you all from the 2nd of the 2nd have a very proud lineage. You come from the oldest regiment, one of the oldest regiments in the United States Army that dates back to about 1808.
I know you've been here since about January. You've lost a couple of your comrades. You've suffered over 50 wounded. And I really just wanted to come out here and thank you for everything you're doing. I'll say more about that in a minute, but I know you want to spend an extended period of time standing in the sun here, so -- but I would give you an opportunity to ask a few questions, and I'll do my best to answer them.
Q: How is the death of Osama bin Laden going to affect us out here?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think -- I think a good line made by -- that I saw in the press quoting the captain where I was in the south yesterday said at this point, it's been noted, but it hasn't made much difference.
And I think it -- I think it really remains to be seen. It's only been a month. I think the potential biggest impact is that bin Laden and Mullah Omar were very close. And, you know, if I were a Taliban, I would think, you know, what's al-Qaida ever done for me except get me kicked out of Afghanistan? And so you might begin to see a growing divide between al-Qaida and the Taliban.
And if we keep the military pressure on through this winter and we are able to hang on to what we've taken away from these guys over the last year to 18 months, if we can expand the security bubble, especially in the south, if you guys can keep disrupting them up here and preventing the bed down in Gazhni and elsewhere with Taliban, then it may be that sometime around the end of this year these guys decide maybe we ought to start talking seriously about reconciliation. And so that certainly is my hope. We'll see. But I don't expect that -- it to make much
Q: (Off mic.)
SEC. GATES: Well, the relationship with Pakistan is a complicated one. I mean, the fact is, we need each other. And they have clearly operated on a different timeline than we do. We have expectations that we want from them. And ultimately they move in that direction. If you had asked me two years ago if the Paks would have 140,000 troops on this border, I'd have said no way, or that they'd clear Swat or South Waziristan and be carrying out some of the other operations. And we've had some good success in partnering across the border, in coordinating operations or in trying to get these guys between the hammer and the anvil.
But there's no question that the sanctuaries in Pakistan are a big problem for us, for you. And we just -- it's one of these relationships you just have to keep working at. It's kind of like a troubled marriage; you just kind of keep working at it.
Q: (Off mic) -- what's your stance on Libya, and do you see us increasing our focus on it as we draw down in Iraq and here?
SEC. GATES: No, I think we will not. And the president has been adamant about the fact that we won't put any troops in there. We're providing -- the plan that was established with our allies and by agreement was that we would go in heavy at the beginning to knock out the Libyan air defenses and help establish the no-fly zone, and at the same time protect the population, particularly in Benghazi. We've accomplished that.
And then the idea was, we would fall back to the background and our allies and partners would take the lead in the strike missions. And that's what's happened. And we've added a -- the president's added a couple of Predators to our capabilities. But we're doing a lot of ISR for them. We're doing a lot of tanking and a lot of other support, and electronic warfare.
And frankly, I think -- I think the regime is beginning to look shakier. They had a defection of a bunch of senior military officers in Rome just a few days ago. The allies are stepping up the pace of attacks. So I can't predict to you when Gadhafi is going to finally fade away, but I don't think it's in the far distant future, and I don't see us changing much.
And, you know, part of what the president's reasoning was -- and it was certainly a view that I shared -- we have a lot of obligations right now. We've still got 50,000 troops in Iraq. We've got 100,000 troops here. For the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, at one point we had 24,000 personnel, 190 aircraft, 24 ships. So we've got a lot of commitments around the world, and this is one where our allies have the capability to take the lead, and I think that's just right.
Q: (Off mic.)
SEC. GATES: How are the what?
Q: (Off mic.)
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that the drawdowns is a subject that we're going to be talking about over the next two or three weeks. You can go ahead and have a seat. And my view is that it needs to be -- it needs to be strategic. We -- just announcing a number in July is sort of like a partial baseball score. You know, kind of one.
And I think it needs to be seen in a context of also when do we end the surge? The whole idea of a surge is that it's temporary. So when does it end?
And then -- and then what's the pace of the drawdowns to get us to the end of 2014 when the total turnover of security goes to the Afghans? And I think we need to look at this thing holistically and kind of have an overall approach. And we need to start with the conditions on the ground, but we also need to make sure that the Afghans understand that as their capabilities increase, they need to take increasing ownership of this conflict.
So I think we've made headway on our major goals, which have been to disrupt al-Qaida and try and defeat them -- clearly the killing of bin Laden was a big deal in that -- but to degrade the capabilities of the Taliban, to deny them the ability to control populated areas, and then at the same time to build up the capabilities of the Afghan forces so that the Afghan forces in numbers and quality can deal with a degraded Taliban. And I think we've made a lot of headway in that. We've still got a ways to go. And I just -- I think we shouldn't let up on the gas too much, at least for the next few months.
One more? Yes, sir.
Q: (Off mic.)
SEC. GATES: Well, I think the thing to remember about our strategy here is that it's a mix of COIN and counterterrorism. I mean, these SOF operations every single night are taking a lot of Taliban leaders off the battlefield. And so I think it's the mix of these strategies. And the key to gathering the intelligence to be able to do the counterterrorism mission is the population feeling secure enough that they're willing to share information with you. So I think it's -- I think they're closely integrated.
And frankly, I never -- in talking to -- for example, probably one of the greatest practitioners of counterterrorism among our military leaders in decades was General McChrystal. And I never could get -- General McChrystal never could figure out how you do CT with -- in complete isolation from a broader strategy. And so I think that that's -- it's the combination of the two and not getting too ambitious in the counterterrorism area, so that we don't get ourselves engaged in nation building but rather build the security institutions and particularly the military to the point where we can turn over this mission. So I see the two as integrally linked. And I think, over time, our mission will be less and less COIN and more and more counterterrorism. So there will be a transition to that. I don't think we're ready to do that yet.
So before -- the main purpose for me being here is really just to thank each and every one of you for your service and get a photograph, look you in the eye and thank you and give you a coin. But let me just say that this is my last trip out here as secretary, and I wanted to come out one last time and thank you for your service and your sacrifice. Probably more than anybody but the president himself, I'm responsible for you being here. I'm the one that signed the deployment orders that got you here. That has weighed on me over the last four and a half years, and so I felt it was my personal responsibility to make sure you got everything you needed to complete the mission and to come home safely, and that if you got hurt, that you would get the best possible care as quickly as possible.
You all are in my thoughts every minute of every day. I understand your hardship and your sacrifice and the burdens you carry and those of your families more than you can probably imagine. I believe you are the best that America has to offer. My admiration and affection for you is without limit, and you all will be in my thoughts and prayers every day for the rest of my life. So thank you for what you've done and what you continue to do. And let's get some pictures.