Bagram (Afghanistan): US Defence Secretary
Robert Gates said on Monday that both the US and Afghan
governments agree the American military should remain involved
in Afghanistan after the planned 2014 end of combat operations
to help train and advise Afghan forces.
"Obviously it would be a small fraction of the
presence that we have today, but I think we`re willing to do
that," Gates told a group of US troops at Bagram air field,
which is headquarters for US and NATO forces in eastern
Afghanistan. "My sense is, they (Afghan officials) are
interested in having us do that."
A soldier asked Gates about a long-term military
presence, and Gates noted that Washington and Kabul have
recently begun negotiating a security partnership. He
mentioned no details. He was to meet later in the day with
Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Gates is at the start of a two-day visit with US
troops, allied commanders and Afghan leaders to gauge war
progress as the Obama administration moves toward crucial
decisions on reducing troop levels.
Gates planned to travel to eastern and southern
portions of Afghanistan, the areas most fiercely contested by
the Taliban insurgency.
Defence Department spokesman Geoff Morrell told
reporters flying with the Pentagon chief from Washington that
Gates wants to get a first-hand feel for changes on the ground
since he last was in Afghanistan in December.
The US is committed to beginning a troop withdrawal in
July. But the size and scope of the pullback will depend on
the degree of progress toward handing off full control to the
shaky Afghan government.
Morrell said Gates expects to hear from troops and
commanders that US and NATO strategy is making important
progress against the relentless Taliban, who are thought to be
gearing up for a spring offensive.
US commanders have been saying for weeks that the
Taliban are suffering big losses in territory and personnel,
while being denied the funding and infiltration routes they
have relied on in the past to ramp up guerrilla operations
Marine Maj Gen Richard Mills, top commander in the
southwestern province of Helmand, told reporters last week
that a Taliban counteroffensive is anticipated.
Mills said he expects the Taliban to try "to regain
very, very valuable territory ... lost over the past six to
He added that US and allied forces are intercepting
"as many of the foreign fighters as we can" who come from
Pakistan to attack US and Afghan troops.