WASHINGTON– Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, received an update on the situation in Afghanistan during a meeting in Belgium.

Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of NATO and U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and Army Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, deputy commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, briefed the secretary and chairman at Chievres Air Base. The trip was unannounced, and the secretary and chairman flew home yesterday.

Navy Adm. James Stavridis, NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe; Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of U.S. Central Command; and Michele Flournoy, undersecretary of defense for policy, also participated in the meeting.

“[Gates] wanted an opportunity to speak first-hand with his commanders and his senior military advisors about how the assessment was unfolding so he could gain as clear an understanding of the situation as possible,” Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said. “It was also an opportunity for him to share some issues, questions and observations as they finish their report.”

Gates has constant contact with commanders in Afghanistan via secure video teleconferences, but there is nothing like sitting down face to face without time being an issue, Morrell said. “They sat down and discussed these things in a very candid and personal way, and delved into it more deeply than he normally could,” he said.

The chairman said it was a productive session, said Navy Capt. John Kirby, Mullen’s spokesman. “It was important not only for learning about the assessment, but for the way key leaders updated them on the effort to execute the strategy in Afghanistan,” he said.

After McChrystal assumed the top spot in Afghanistan, Gates instructed him to take the first two months and give his best assessment of the situation. He also called on the general to scrub the ranks to make sure they all are being best used for maximum effect.

The McChrystal assessment still is a work in progress, Morrell said, and the meeting speaks to this fact. “The secretary wanted to get a sense of where it is headed so he can begin to prepare his thinking and prepare for the likely assessment that will be made in the coming weeks,” Morrell said.

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