Gates expresses confidence in Karzai, Afghan campaign
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates expressed confidence on Wednesday in Afghan President Hamid Karzai and said a key NATO-led campaign was making headway despite a recent spike in casualties.
Washington: US Defence Secretary Robert
Gates expressed confidence on Wednesday in Afghan President Hamid
Karzai and said a key NATO-led campaign was making headway
despite a recent spike in casualties.
"I think he is embracing his responsibility for this
conflict," Gates told the Senate Appropriations Committee in
response to a question about the Afghan president, who has had
strained relations with Washington.
Sounding frustrated, Gates pushed back against reports
that things were not going well in southern Afghanistan, after
a week in which 28 NATO troops were killed in Taliban attacks,
saying the accounts were "too negative."
"We are making headway," he said, stressing that the
new strategy was still only four months old and not all the
30,000 US surge troops were in Afghanistan yet.
He said it was "tragic but inevitable" that US forces
would see increased casualties as they moved into areas
dominated by the Taliban.
Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, said he was "comfortable" with the progress
made on a crucial campaign to secure Kandahar but said it
would neither easy nor bloodless.
Nervousness over the situation in Afghanistan deepened
last week after General Stanley McChrystal, the top commander
in Afghanistan, said the campaign in Kandahar would take
longer than expected.
From both the right and the left, lawmakers have
pointedly questioned whether the administration`s goal of
starting a drawdown of US forces from Afghanistan in July 2001
can be met.
"I must tell you I have a certain sense of deja vu,"
Gates said at one point. "Because I was sitting here getting
the same kind of questions about Iraq in June of 2007 when we
had just barely gotten the surge forces into Iraq."
"This is not something where we do ourselves any
favours by tearing ourselves up by the roots every week to see
if we`re growing," he said.
Gates was asked about reports that the US military has
so far been unable to consolidate gains made after taking the
southern town of Marja, held out as a pilot for the larger
struggle for the Taliban heartland of Kandahar.
He acknowledged that it has taken longer than expected
to get Afghan security forces and civilian officials in the
town to run development programs aimed at winning over the
Mullen stressed that Kandahar was crucial to the
success of the NATO-led effort in Afghanistan.
"It is my belief that should they go unchallenged
there and in the surrounding areas, they will feel equally
unchallenged elsewhere," he said.
"As goes Kandahar, so goes Afghanistan."