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Jim Garamone - American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 27, 2009 - The president's new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan is more likely to succeed because it is a more comprehensive approach, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said today.
In an interview with the Pentagon Channel, Gates said the new strategy deals with Afghanistan and Pakistan as two nations suffering from common ills.
Afghanistan and Pakistan face the same threat from al-Qaida and its allies, Gates said. The new strategy also "internationalizes" the problem of extremist groups in the region. The new strategy advocates the addition of trainers and the acceleration of the growth of the Afghan army and police.
The U.S. State Department and the Agency for International Development have committed to adding hundreds of people to the effort in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and that is an integral part of the new strategy.
"The significant civilian surge -- I know we've been calling for that for a long time at the department," Gates said.
All these different aspects combine to make the new strategy more workable and more able to confront the challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the secretary said.
The United States is clearly prepared to commit the personnel and resources needed to win in Afghanistan. The president approved 17,000 more troops earlier this month and an additional 4,000 trainers today.
"So it's clear the United States is prepared to step up," Gates said. "I think our allies are prepared to do more. I think some will do more in the security arena and particularly to the build-up to the election in August."
Gates has been persistent in trying to get more resources from NATO allies, said Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell. One minister even accused the secretary of "megaphone diplomacy" for the secretary's vocal and persistent cajoling of the allies, he said. Some NATO and non-NATO allies are in the fight, and the secretary noted the significant contributions of the British, French, Dutch, Danes, Canadians and the Australians.
But for other nations, the focus may have to be somewhat different. "I think the focus of our request on civilian expertise and police trainers, frankly is easier for Europeans politically at home, than to send more soldiers," Gates said. "I think that the kinds of things we are asking them for will be easier for them politically, and despite their economic problems at home, that they will meet those needs."
The addition of the active Army brigade as trainers will make a big dent in training the Afghan National Army and bringing it to 134,000, he said.
"A lot of our troops are out there already training, and to the degree that we have joint operations with the Afghan army, that in itself is a training activity," Gates said. "I think the commitment of this full additional brigade will make a significant difference."
The secretary does not anticipate American troops conducting combat operations against al-Qaida inside Pakistan.
"A big part of what the president announced today is a new kind of partnership with Pakistan including both economic assistance and also our willingness to help train their forces and provide the gear that would allow them to improve their own capabilities in counter-insurgencies," he said. "What is key here is the regionalization of the problem and getting Afghanistan and Pakistan to work together on both sides of that border to go after al-Qaida and their allies."
Al-Qaida operates on both sides of the Durand Line separating Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"You really have to go after al-Qaida and its allies on both sides of that border," Gates said. "What's required here is just greater coordination and collaboration first between the Afghans and the Pakistanis, but also between each of them and us. So, on a bi-lateral basis and a tri-lateral basis we have to go after these guys on both sides of the border."
The secretary was blunt about the exit strategy for the United States. "The exit strategy in Afghanistan is the same as the exit strategy in Iraq: and that is success," he said.
He defined success as when the Afghans "are able to take over the security functions in their own country and perform those duties with little help from us. I think the acceleration of the army and all of the other aspects of the strategy will make that day closer than perhaps it was before."