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Gates Heads Back to Washington From Overseas Trip

By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service

ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Dec. 10, 2010 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is on his way back to Washington today after visiting with deployed servicemembers, getting a ground-view perspective on operations in eastern and southern Afghanistan, and meeting with leaders in Oman, Afghanistan and the United Arab Emirates.

Speaking with reporters on the homeward leg of the trip, Gates touched on several topics, starting with the meeting he had last night in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Zayed Al Nubayan.

“We talked about our bilateral relationship, particularly, our military-to-military relationship, as well as the desirability of greater multilateral cooperation in the Gulf on air and missile defense and maritime surveillance,” the secretary said. “We talked about Afghanistan, where the UAE is making a real contribution both on the military side and on the economic and humanitarian assistance side and is providing support to some of the other participating countries.”

Gates said he thanked the crown prince for the United Arab Emirates’ support in sustaining the Palestinian Authority over the last several months, and the meeting also included discussion on the need to keep providing assistance to the Yemeni government as it takes on the various challenges there.

“The key is getting in there before there’s a crisis with economic assistance and with building partnership capacity,” he said. “Both the UAE and Oman are engaged in these activities with development projects. Other countries are as well. The United States has some efforts ongoing in this respect, particularly in the building partnership capacity.”

The need to keep up the economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran related to its nuclear program was another topic in the meeting, the secretary said.

“I won’t speak for Oman or the UAE,” he said, “but I think that there is general support in the region for applying the sanctions and for doing what we can to make the sanctions effective and try to influence the Iranian government to walk away from their nuclear weapons program.

“There clearly is concern -- not just in this region, but elsewhere – about Iran’s overall aggressive behavior with respect to Hezbollah and Lebanon and other places around the world,” he continued, “and I think that’s a broadly shared concern.”

Gates spent two days in Afghanistan this week, where he met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other government officials, visited with troops in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, and received briefings on operations – particularly in eastern and southern Afghanistan – from military leaders serving in the International Security Assistance Force.

“I think we have made more progress in Kandahar faster than I expected,” he said. “They have moved in that area much more rapidly than I had anticipated.”

It’s clear that depending on the circumstances, the military strategy must differ from one part of the country to another, Gates said.

“For example, in the east, what we’re engaged in is a disruption and a blocking activity to stop the Taliban coming across the border from making it into Jalalabad and Kabul, whereas in the south it’s a different strategy, clearing the Taliban out of populated areas and holding those areas.”

Part of the reason why forces along Afghanistan’s border with Pakistan are encountering more enemy fighters is pressure on the Pakistani side of the border, Gates said. While in Afghanistan, he added, he talked about the importance of building collaboration between the two countries so they’re planning operations on both sides of the border at the same time and reinforcing each other’s actions.

“My sense is that both Afghanistan and Pakistan are open to that,” the secretary said. “There have been a number of meetings between the military officials, and we participate in some, but not in all. We’re willing to facilitate that cooperation.”


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