Gates: No extra troop requests in upcoming war review
Stars and Stripes August 15, 2009
ARLINGTON, Va. — Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said on Thursday that no additional troop requests will be included in a forthcoming review of the war by the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a special operations forces commander who Gates selected in May to take over the war, will submit his assessment sometime between next Thursday, when Afghans go to the polls, and the end of the month.
“However, we have made clear to Gen. McChrystal that he is free to ask for what he needs,” Gates said, calling recent reporting on future troop levels “premature.”
McChrystal will give a broader assessment of the military’s role in the Obama administration’s overall Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, Gates stressed.
In recent operations in Afghanistan, that strategy has been for U.S. forces to cut off terrorist groups from accessing local populations. The U.S. then wins over civilians by providing greater security and later aid, development and elections.
“If you deny the Taliban access to people, you basically are starving what nourishes them,” said Gates. “The key is the Afghans themselves becoming the security force ... ordinary Afghans turning in Taliban who are planting IEDs.”
Pentagon officials all year have pointed to next week’s elections as a critical milestone for Afghanistan’s security, and Gates remains optimistic for a “credible” polling day.
More Afghans than ever will be able to vote, he said, at 1,300 to 1,400 more polling places than existed for the country’s 2004 elections. However, Taliban leaders have vowed to disrupt the vote and threatened violence against citizens attempting to cast a ballot.
Across the border in Pakistan, a survey released Thursday revealed that the Obama administration’s strategy has not shifted critical public support for the U.S., even as support for al-Qaida and the Taliban has declined in the last year, according to the latest Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Poll.
Just four percent of Pakistanis surveyed viewed America as a “partner”. And 64 percent said that America was the “enemy.”
“Well I think that, first of all, one of the reasons that the Pakistanis have concerns about us is that we walked away from them twice,” Gates said. “We walked away from them after the Soviets left Afghanistan, and we walked with them through the 1990s.
“As so I think the Pakistanis, probably with some legitimacy, question how long are we prepared to stay there. Is the only reason we’re interested in working with the Pakistanis because of the war in Afghanistan, or do we value Pakistan as a partner and ally independent of the war in Afghanistan?”
Gates said he felt a more important number is the broad Pakistani public support for their military’s operations against extremists in the Fata and Northwest Frontier provinces, at a level “more than I think any of us would have expected six months ago.”
Gates insisted the U.S. was there to stay, noting recent congressional aid packages.
The secretary said he wants to visit Pakistan in the next six to eight months, following more than a dozen visits by Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has built a strong relationship with Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani.
Said Gates: “It probably is time for me to return.”