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News | April 5, 2009

Gates touts new strategy to Afghan people

Army Sgt. Ramon Guzman walks past villagers in Afghanistan's Panjshir Valley last month. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Afghan telivision that American troops will leave Afghanistan as soon as possible, but the misison 'will take time.'
Army Sgt. Ramon Guzman walks past villagers in Afghanistan’s Panjshir Valley last month. Defense Secretary Robert Gates told Afghan telivision that American troops will leave Afghanistan as soon as possible, but the misison ‘will take time.’

WASHINGTON (April 3, 2009) – The United States does not want to remain in Afghanistan one day longer than it has to, but the mission will take time, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during an interview with Afghan television Friday.

The new strategy in Afghanistan is a result of months of study and consultation with Afghan leaders and other coalition allies, Gates said.

The secretary said the U.S. forces will leave Afghanistan when the country’s security forces can handle the challenges on their own. To that end, he said, the new strategy concentrates on providing security and helping the Afghan people expand the army and police.

“Afghans must protect their own security, when all is said and done,” the secretary said. “And so we want to help them do that.”

The United States will send the soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team to Afghanistan to serve as trainers for the Afghan security forces. The troopers will arrive starting in the spring and through the summer.

The new strategy also will channel significant money to development. Gates said a large number of civilian experts in agriculture and veterinarians will help to revive the farm sector. Physicians, nurses and other health professionals will help in the medical field. Lawyers and government administrators will mentor at the district, provincial and national levels. Gates said he hopes this will “show the Afghan people … that life will improve thanks to these international efforts.”

The Afghan people have suffered under the Soviets and the Taliban. “We’re there as partners with the Afghan people to help them be able to govern themselves, and without somebody from the outside telling them how to do it,” the secretary said.

Trust is key to the process, Gates said, and the Afghan people have to trust the coalition and understand that “we are there to help them, not for purposes of our own other than the same purpose that the Afghan people have, which is for Afghanistan not to be a safe haven for terrorists who kill them and want to kill us.”

Gates said some of the agreements the Pakistani government has made with the Taliban in western Pakistan are a concern to the United States. Earlier agreements led to Taliban extremists crossing the border into Afghanistan, he said. “They no longer had to worry about Pakistani troops because of the deals,” Gates said.

But leaders are starting to understand the problems the extremists pose. “I think the Pakistani government is coming to understand that what is going on in western Pakistan is as great a danger to the government in Islamabad as it is to Afghanistan,” Gates said. “The Pakistani army has been doing a lot of fighting. Thousands of Pakistani soldiers have died in the western part of the country fighting these extremists. And one of our goals in this new strategy is to see how we can improve cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, who have a common interest in getting rid of these extremists.”

Gates said Pakistan’s interservice intelligence has contacts with extremists groups and that concerns the United States. “The ISI’s contacts with some of these extremist groups – with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the Haqqani network, Commander Nazir and others – are a real concern to us,” Gates said. “We have made these concerns known directly to the Pakistanis, and we hope that they will take action to put an end to it.”

Gates said the United States and the coalition are concerned about the narcotics trade. Drug traffickers are pumping somewhere between $70 million and $100 million into the Taliban each year, he said. The trade also feeds corruption and undermines the legitimacy of the government.

“For both of those reasons, it’s important to go after this,” the secretary said.