US defence chief Gates on surprise visit to Afghanistan

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Kabul on Thursday.

Kabul: US Defence Secretary Robert Gates
arrived in Kabul on Thursday on a surprise visit following a trip to
Iraq, where he attended ceremonies to mark the formal end of
the American combat mission there.

During his visit to America`s other war, Gates is
expected to meet President Hamid Karzai, as well as the
commander of international forces in Afghanistan, US General
David Petraeus, and other officials, his staff said.

Gates said yesterday that America`s war in Iraq is over
but that the outcome would remain "clouded" by the reason it
was waged in the first place.

Asked by reporters at Camp Ramadi, an American base
about 100 kilometres west of Baghdad, whether the United
States was still at war in Iraq, Gates replied: "I`d say we`re
not. Combat operations have ceased.

"We are still going to work with Iraqis on counter-
terrorism, we are still doing a lot of training and advising,"
said Gates, who had arrived early yesterday on an unannounced
visit to Iraq.

"So I would say we`ve moved into the final phase of our
engagement in Iraq," he said, after meeting US soldiers
staying on to provide assistance to the Iraqi army.

President Barack Obama late Tuesday officially
announced the end of the US combat mission in Iraq, where US
forces are now down to around 49,700, for an advisory and
training mission -- with the last forces to leave in 2011.

The end of US combat operations in Iraq has shifted
attention to America`s war in Afghanistan, where troop deaths
are at record highs and rampant corruption underscores the
challenges facing the West.


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