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Gates, Afghan Offcials Discuss Defense Cooperation

gatesU.S. and Afghan officials yesterday agreed to explore ways to strengthened defense cooperation between the two countries and cement a long-term partnership for the future, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates yesterday hosted Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, Interior Minister Mohammad Hanif Atmar and Afghan Intelligence Chief Amrullah Saleh during a 90-minute Pentagon meeting, which is part of a series of discussions between U.S. and Afghan officials built around Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s U.S. visit.

“This is a very important week for our partnership, for our relationship,” Gates told the group.

Joining Gates and the Afghan officials in the meeting were Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, Michele Flournoy, the undersecretary of defense for policy; Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan; and Mike Vickers, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict.

Morrell said the two countries agreed to begin a high-level defense dialogue, but details on specifics such as how often meetings are held and who the players have not yet been determined.

The United States wants to reassure the Afghan government that it “is not going to repeat the mistakes of the late ’80s and early ’90s, when we turned our back [on Afghanistan and Pakistan] and walked away from the relationships,” Morrell said. “I think there is clearly … a trust deficit … that clearly needs to be addressed.”

The officials also addressed issues revolving regional security and the trilateral relationship among Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States, and discussed developments of the Afghan security forces. Gates noted the success the Afghan security forces have had with increasing their numbers.

“Obviously, there are quality issues that need to be addressed in the long term,” Morrell said.

The group also discussed the move of security responsibility to Afghan forces and the July 2011 date set by President Barack Obama to begin that transition.

“Everybody was in agreement that transition was a process, not an event,” Morrell said. “July 2011 will be the beginning of a conditions-based process. But even as that process evolves, we will enjoy a robust military-to-military partnership well into the future.”

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