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Soldiers in Kandahar Draw Praise, Gratitude From Gates

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

FORWARD OPERATING BASE HOWZ-E MADAD, Afghanistan, Dec. 8, 2010 – The soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province are serving at “the tip of the spear” in the war effort, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.

Gates continued a series of troop visits across Afghanistan, as he presented awards, and met with and thanked military members for their service.

“I want to thank you for signing up to be in the military at a time when you knew you’d be at war,” the secretary told the hundreds of soldiers on hand to greet him here.

Military service always entails sacrifices, Gates noted, adding that those sacrifices are tougher during the holiday season. As he has in three other troop visits he has made in Afghanistan over the last two days, Gates asked the soldiers here to extend his personal gratitude to their families for the sacrifices they’re making.

“You guys here are at the tip of the spear of the campaign of the last several months,” Gates said. “It is a campaign in which you have taken new territory, cleared it, secured it and held it, and you are tying together the battle spaces in southeastern and southwestern Afghanistan.

“This is a critical part of our strategy and of the current campaign,” he continued, “and you have been enormously successful.”

Gates said getting servicemembers what they need to accomplish their missions and come home safely has been his top priority since taking office, and that he feels personally responsible for each one of them.

“The sacrifice, the hardship and the losses that you take affect me more than you can possibly imagine,” he said, “and I just wanted, again, to thank you for your service.”

The 2nd Brigade soldiers have been here for more than six months as the lead surge element in the International Security Assistance Force’s Regional Command South. As Gates posed for pictures with all of the soldiers on hand to greet him and presented them with his commemorative secretary of defense coin, Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander of International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, met with reporters along with Army Col. Art Kandarian, the brigade’s commander.

Kandarian said his soldiers have been working closely with Afghan soldiers and police in Kandahar’s Maywand and Zhari districts. In September, he said, they began Operation Dragon Strike, a series of partnered attacks on insurgent safe havens in the Zhari district.

“The challenge that we had here, of course, was last year. There was only one brigade of coalition troops in this area, and all the surrounding areas and environs around Kandahar City were infested with the enemy,” Rodriguez explained. “[Kandarian] talked about one part of the job that he has done, but there’s been four districts around Kandahar City that have been cleaned out. We continue to do some clearing, but already the ‘build’ [phase] is starting to happen.”

With a great deal of help from Afghan police and soldiers, the environment around Kandahar City has changed completely in the past year, and security has improved inside the city, Rodriguez added.

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Biographies:
Robert M. Gates
Army Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez

Related Sites:
Special Report: Travels With Gates
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