Washington: Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that US strategy in the Afghan war appeared to be working and that he was cautiously optimistic at signs of progress.
With all 30,000 additional US troops now on the ground, Gates said the NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, believed the war effort was on "the right track."
He said "the question is, is our campaign plan -- to look in December and beyond, is the campaign plan working? Is the principle proven that this is the right approach?
"And the evidence that General Petraeus is seeing so far suggests to him that it is -- and both on the civilian and the military side, not just the military side," Gates told a joint press conference with his French counterpart, Herve Morin.
He cited the dramatic growth in the "numbers and quality" of Afghan security forces as one cause for optimism, but said that both he and Petraeus remained "cautious."
The Pentagon chief warned that there was still a tough fight ahead against Islamist insurgents and that more young soldiers would lose their lives.
"So I don`t want to mislead anybody. This is a hard fight. There are many challenges ahead. We will lose more kids.
"But I think General Petraeus has the feeling we`re on the right track."
His comments reflected signs the US administration will likely endorse the current strategy and troop commitment in Afghanistan in formal reviews of the war later this year.
The US military is under pressure to show concrete progress in Afghanistan, where American troops have been deployed since 2001, when a US-led invasion toppled the Taliban regime over its ties with Al-Qaeda.
NATO allies are due to assess the war effort at a November summit in Lisbon and US commanders are scheduled to deliver a key review of the conflict in December.
President Barack Obama last year approved a new strategy focused on securing key towns and villages, including in the Taliban`s southern strongholds, backed up by a "surge" of 30,000 reinforcements.
In his talks with Morin, Gates said he expressed gratitude for France`s military commitment in Afghanistan, where more than 3,500 French troops are stationed.
Morin said he agreed with Gates` portrayal of the war effort, saying there were numerous signs of progress on the ground but that it was often a challenge to convey the importance of the mission to Europeans.
He said "it`s difficult to understand that 6,000 kilometers away from home and in an area of influence which is not a traditional area of influence in Europe," that the "safety of the world is at stake in Afghanistan."
Asked about Afghanistan`s parliamentary elections set for Saturday, Gates said he was hopeful that extensive preparations by the Kabul government would prevent serious fraud -- which marred last summer`s presidential polls.
The Afghans had a solid plan for security and for resolving electoral disputes among rival candidates, he said.
"I think there`s a good adjudication process that has been put in place. I hope that we will see a credible election in which improprieties are at a minimum," he said.