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Progress Made in Afghanistan Despite Hurdles, Says Defense Secretary Gates

gatesAlthough U.S. operations in Afghanistan are proving to be a “tough pull,” progress is being made nonetheless, Department of Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates yesterday told “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace.

Gates said Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, had noted that headway was being made in Afghanistan; however, it was somewhat slower than anticipated.

The operation in Kandahar has been underway for a number of weeks, Gates said. Meanwhile, not all of the 30,000 additional U.S. troops tabbed to participate in the Afghan “surge” have arrived in country. The reason for the delay is the additional time spent on shaping of the environment before “we actually engage with troops and so on,” he explained.

“And so I think that it is a ‘tough pull,’ and we are suffering significant casualties,” Gates said. “We expected that. We’d warned everybody that would be the case last winter; that as we went into areas that the Taliban had controlled for two or three years that our casualties would grow – especially this summer.”

Nonetheless, Gates said, McChrystal’s message to the NATO defense ministers was that the general “will be able to demonstrate by December that we not only have the right strategy, but that we are making progress” in Afghanistan.

July 2011 is the transition date when coalition forces start to turn over responsibility for security to the Afghan National Security Forces. Gates said he believes the Afghan army and police will be ready to take over the responsibility for security in certain areas of Afghanistan, certainly by a year from this coming July.

Although, there may be instances of corruption among some in the Afghan army’s ranks, Gates said, the majority of Afghan troops are performing well in operations alongside U.S. and allied forces.

“We clearly understand that in July of 2011, we begin to draw down our forces” in Afghanistan, Gates said. And, both the pace at which that draw down is conducted and the numbers of troops involved, he added, will be based on conditions on the ground. McChrystal and senior Afghan government and NATO officials will work together in assessing those conditions as they make their recommendations, Gates said.

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