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U.S. Secretary of Defense Travels to Kabul and Kandahar

On June 4 President Hamid Karzai received U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to pledge his country’s continued support to Afghanistan and to assess the fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Secretary Gates also met with his counterpart, Afghanistan’s Defense Minister General Abdul Rahim Wardak, and made his first visit to Kandahar in southern Afghanistan, where he met with U.S. troops.

During their consulations, President Karzai and Secretary Gates discussed the security situation in Afghanistan and the region. “I am confident that with the support that the United States keeps providing to Afghanistan, Afghanistan's institutions will be strong, reliable, and standing also on our own feet in a few years of time. Afghanistan will continue to be a partner of the United States,” said President Karzai during a joint press conference. He expressed his gratitude for the United States, “for having given us tremendous resources in billions of dollars just a few days ago from the people of Congress to strengthen our security forces.” President Karzai also answered questions about the toll of the fighting on Afghan civilians. “It is the desire of the Afghan people, it is the desire of the international community, to defeat terrorism. While we are at war against terrorism, it's also important the international community, the Afghan government and the Afghan people to do it in a manner that would not cause civilian casualties,” he said. Secretary Gates concurred, saying, “Avoiding civilian casualties is very important in terms of winning the loyalty and the support of local populations…At the same time, it's important to realize that the Taliban are actually the ones that often create the opportunity for the risk to civilians posed by military operations.”

Secretary Gates categorized the spring offensive as an Afghan-alliance offensive that has seriously hindered the Taliban. “I think actually things are slowly, cautiously headed in the right direction,” Secretary Gates said. "I am confident that the United States and our partners in the alliance will be here for as long as it takes." The Secretary also called for more focus on combating poverty and other underlying causes of extremism.

Secretary Gates accompanied Afghan National Army Chief of Staff General Bismullah Khan in a tour of Camp Morehead, a military facility center in Kabul where the first battalion of ANA commandos is being trained. The former CIA director told Afghan officers during the visit that he remembered aiding anti-Soviet Afghan fighters in the area in the 1980s.Gen. Bismullah Khan presented Secretary Gates with a book featuring the battlefield exploits of Afghan national hero Ahmed Shah Massoud, who was assassinated on Sept. 9, 2001 by al-Qaida agents in northern Afghanistan.

Speaking at a security conference in Singapore on June 3 prior to his visit, Gates called on Asian states to provide extra support for Afghanistan. "I would urge others to step forward with assistance to Afghanistan in the areas of governance, reconstruction, and counter-narcotics," Gates said. "It is clear that Afghanistan and its newly independent neighbors in central Asia face steep obstacles as they strive to make the transition into prosperous, secure, and fully sovereign nations."

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