[Marxism] Gates: Afghanistan top US military priority; 30,000 more troops by summer

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Tue Jan 27 18:17:28 MST 2009


Afghanistan top priority, but goals limited: Gates

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared Afghanistan
the top US military priority Tuesday but said US objectives there should be

"My own personal view is that our primary goal is to prevent Afghanistan
from being used as a base for terrorists and extremists to attack the United
States and our allies," he said.

"And whatever else we need to do flows from that objective," he told
lawmakers in his first appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee
as President Barack Obama's defense secretary.

His comments marked a significant narrowing of US ambitions even as the
United States prepares to nearly double the size of its forces in
Afghanistan in response to an unraveling security situation.

"There is little doubt that our greatest military challenge right now is
Afghanistan," Gates said in his opening statement. "President Obama has made
it clear that the Afghanistan theater should be our top military priority."

Gates told lawmakers that the bulk of a 30,000-troop buildup requested by
the US commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, could be in place
by mid-summer but bases must be expanded to receive the full complement of
additional forces.

"But I would be very skeptical of additional forces levels, American force
levels, beyond what General McKiernan has already asked for," he said.

Obama meets Wednesday at the Pentagon with the military chiefs to review
planning for Afghanistan and a parallel drawdown of the 142,000 US troops in

In testimony in the Senate and later at the House of Representatives, Gates
said the military will present Obama with a range of options, including the
withdrawal of all US combat brigades from Iraq in 16 months.

"He has been firm in saying he wants a responsible withdrawal and one that
is safe for our troops," Gates told the House Armed Services Committee.

"I think this is a very thorough and a very real process. I don't think
anybody associated with it in the Department of Defense feels like we're
going through the motions; that a decision has already been made," he said.

Meanwhile, Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, called on European allies to provide more troops and funding for

Observing that the NATO-led force has grown by 10,000 troops over the past
year, Mullen said, "We need those contributions and we will need more."

Gates said the US goal in Afghanistan was a state in which the Afghan people
do not provide a safe haven to al-Qaeda, reject the rule of the Taliban and
support their legitimately elected government.

But he was blunt about the difficulties of stabilizing the country and the
chances for success of an extensive nation-building project.

"If we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of a Central Asian
Valhalla over there, we will lose," he warned Senators. "Because nobody in
the world has that much time, patience or money, to be honest."

"It seems to me we ought to keep our objectives realistic and limited in
Afghanistan. Otherwise we will set ourselves up for failure," he said.

Valhalla is commonly used as a synonym for heaven, but in old Norse
mythology it was a great hall where heroes slain in battle are received.

Gates also acknowledged that civilian casualties from US air strikes "are
doing enormous harm to us in Afghanistan."

"We have to got to figure out better ways to do these things or have Afghans
in the lead, because my fear is that the Afghans come to see us as part of
the problem instead of part of the solution," he said.

But Gates defended stepped up air strikes by US unmanned aircraft along the
border with Pakistan in tribal areas that Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other
militants have used as a safe haven.

The United States will continue to pursue Al-Qaeda "anywhere it is," Gates
said, telling lawmakers that decision has been transmitted to the government
of Pakistan. 
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