“One of the points where I suspect both administrations come to the same conclusion, is that the goals we did have for Afghanistan are too broad and too far into the future,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters at a Pentagon press conference.
President Barack Obama met with Gates and other National Security Council members at the White House on Jan. 21.
The United States needs to set “more concrete goals” for Afghanistan that “can be achieved realistically within three to five years,” Gates said. For example, he said, efforts should be made to re-establish Afghan government control in the country’s southern and eastern regions, as well boost security and improve the delivery of services to the population.
And, U.S., coalition and Afghan military operations targeting al-Qaida and Taliban insurgents must be maintained in Afghanistan to prevent the re-establishment of terrorism in the region, Gates said.
Obama said yesterday during a State Department visit that increased violence in Afghanistan and Pakistan threatens global security and constitutes “the central front in our enduring struggle against terrorism.” The Afghan government, he said, has been hard-pressed to deliver basic services to its people.
“Violence is up dramatically in Afghanistan,” Obama said. “A deadly insurgency has taken deep root.” And, along Afghanistan’s eastern border with Pakistan, he said, al-Qaida and Taliban fighters “strike from bases embedded in rugged tribal terrain along the Pakistani border.”
About 34,000 U.S. troops are posted in Afghanistan. Commanders there have requested about 30,000 additional U.S. forces to be used to suppress resurgent Taliban fighters and al-Qaida terrorists.
Meanwhile, Obama is studying several Pentagon-provided options for a drawdown of U.S. combat troops from Iraq.
Improved security and reduced violence in Iraq today “clearly permit” a responsible drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq, said Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who accompanied Gates at yesterday’s news conference. The availability of more troops for Afghanistan, Mullen said, is generally “tied to that [Iraq] drawdown.”
The threat to the United States now “is focused in the Afghan theater,” Gates said, including “both sides” of the Afghan-Pakistani border. Obama, accordingly, “wants to put more emphasis on Afghanistan,” the secretary said.
Therefore, Gates said, the U.S. military is transitioning from the “highest priority that we have given to Iraq over the last several years, and moving that priority to Afghanistan.”