Wed, Dec 09, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Robert Gates arrives in Afghanistan

LESSONS LEARNED The US secretary of defense said that he would seek to assure President Hamid Karzai the US would not abandon the country as it did in 1989

AP , KABUL

US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates arrived yesterday in Afghanistan with plans to assure officials and US troops there that the US is committed to winning the war despite plans to begin pulling forces out in 2011.

“We are in this thing to win,” Gates told reporters while traveling to Kabul, where he plans to meet privately with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and later with troops bearing the brunt of combat.

The secretary’s trip to Afghanistan is the first by a Cabinet member since US President Barack Obama’s announcement last week that he will deploy 30,000 more troops with the intention of starting to bring them home in July 2011.

As Gates took his message abroad, General Stanley McChrystal, the US overall military commander in Afghanistan, was to try yesterday to convince a skeptical Congress that more troops are needed to fight a growing enemy insurgency. More than 920 US troops have died in the eight-year-old war.

McChrystal’s appearance before the House of Representatives’ Armed Services Committee starts the first of three days of ­congressional ­Afghanistan ­hearings that are expected to draw hard questions from both anti-war Democrats and conservative Republicans about Obama’s intention to begin paring down the US role in July 2011.

Gates and other administration officials have described the 2011 date as just the beginning, with the process likely take at least two or three years to complete.

Gates, in a midair briefing en route to Kabul, said he believes the US mistakenly abandoned Afghanistan in 1989 as it fought the Soviets and understands Afghan concerns that they will be left alone against the Taliban.

Gates says he will try to assure Karzai and his advisers “that we are not going to repeat the situation in 1989” and that “we intend to be their partner for a long time to come.”

He also says he will press Karzai and Afghan Defense Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak on efforts to recruit and train more Afghan soldiers and police officers. McChrystal has set the goal of building the Afghan security force to 400,000 by 2013. There are roughly 94,000 Afghan police officers and 97,000 soldiers today.

Gates’ trip came as the Pentagon issued deployment orders for more than 16,000 troops to Afghanistan, the first major installment of the 30,000 reinforcements expected to be in place by next fall.

An infantry battalion of 1,500 Marines from Camp Lejeune will be among the first to arrive later this month, followed by another 6,200 Marines from the North Carolina base and 800 Marines from Camp Pendleton, California, deployed next spring.

A 3,400-soldier brigade combat team from Fort Drum, New York, will also deploy in early spring. Most of the troops will head toward southern Afghanistan, where anti-US forces have a stronghold and fighting has been heaviest.

On Monday, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen bluntly told troops at Fort Campbell, Kentucky — including some bound for Afghanistan — that “we are not winning, which means we are losing and as we are losing, the message traffic out there to [insurgency] recruits keeps getting better and better and more keep coming.”

The infusion will bring to 100,000 the number of US troops in Afghanistan, the largest expansion of the war since it began.

Obama’s plan envisions a burst of soldiers and Marines sent in to tamp down violence, then hand off the mission to the Afghans.

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