Afghanistan rebels key to future, Gates says

‘Sons of Iraq’ to serve as model for reconcilables

By JEFF SCHOGOL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 8, 2008

ABOARD AN AIR FORCE PLANE — Success in Afghanistan depends in part on separating reconcilable elements from the insurgency there, just as U.S. forces were able to do in Iraq, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Monday.

Gates spoke to reporters Monday while en route to high-level meetings in Eastern Europe. One reporter asked him to comment on a media report that Saudi Arabia is brokering peace talks with the Taliban.

"What we have seen in Iraq applies in Afghanistan," he replied. "What is important is detaching those members of the opposition who are reconcilable and willing to be part of the future of the country from those who are irreconcilable and have to be dealt with militarily."

Gates made clear that Taliban leader Mullah Omar is not someone who could be brought into the fold.

"I in my wildest imagination would never consider Mullah Omar a reconcilable," he said.

In Iraq, U.S. forces were able to recruit close to 100,000 "Sons of Iraq" — most of whom are former Sunni insurgents — into an armed militia to combat al-Qaida.

It remains to be seen whether the Iraqi government will transition all of these "Sons of Iraq" into the security forces and civilian jobs.

Gates said he will talk to NATO leaders about their commitments to Afghanistan, where commanders have requested four additional brigade combat teams.

The Defense Department has diverted a Marine Air Ground Task Force and an Army brigade combat team from Iraq to Afghanistan, but further U.S. reinforcements will not be available until spring or summer.

"I want to make sure everybody understands that the increases in U.S. forces are not seen as replacements for NATO contributions, but a reinforcement; and so we not only want those who have made the commitments to continue them, but continue to look for opportunities to increase the levels of non-U.S. forces there," Gates said.

He also said U.S. allies both in and outside of NATO should consider making financial contributions to the estimated $17 billion it will cost to increase the size of the Afghan army.