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Gates Calls for More Coherent Afghan Strategy

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the United States and its allies need a more coherent strategy in Afghanistan. And he believes General David Petraeus, who took command of U.S. forces throughout the Middle East and Central Asia on Friday, can help provide such an approach. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Washington.

With violence down in Iraq, much of the Pentagon's attention is shifting to Afghanistan where the Taliban, al-Qaida and associated groups have increased their attacks in recent months. That is why Secretary Gates moved his successful Iraq commander, General Petraeus, to U.S. Central Command, where he will have ultimate responsibility for both wars.

After attending the general's change of command ceremony in Florida, Secretary Gates told reporters on his aircraft he believes the international effort in Afghanistan needs a better overall approach. "I think that the military strategy throughout Afghanistan and with our coalition partners needs greater coherence. And I think General Petraeus can help General McKiernan in doing that."

General David McKiernan is the top U.S. commander in Kabul, and he also answers to the NATO command, whose countries have thousands of troops working alongside U.S. and Afghan forces. The complex structure makes the job of developing and implementing a coherent strategy particularly difficult. Past commanders have tried, with limited success. But Secretary Gates believes General Petraeus, who is widely credited with turning around the war in Iraq, is the right man to try again.

"While the two wars we're in are very different, the need to integrate military and civilian is a common theme, and the need to be as inclusive as possible in trying to bring people together. And so I think he brings a broad strategic understanding of the challenges that we face."

Secretary Gates also called for the expansion of the Afghan army, perhaps beyond the 134-thousand already agreed to. It is now about half that size. Gates said all parties involved agree on the need to move as quickly as possible to expand the Afghan forces. He said the fight, "needs to be an Afghan war, not an American war and not a NATO war."

General Petraeus called for a comprehensive approach to the Afghan conflict as he took command, and he has said some principles he used in Iraq will apply, including increasing security, and that he will need more U.S. troops to do the job. Gates confirmed Friday he has approved sending three more brigades and their support forces, well over ten thousand troops. But they will not be available until the new administration takes office in January.

Gates spent more than a year trying to persuade NATO allies to send more troops to Afghanistan, but he said Friday he does not expect the allies to do much more than they have already done, requiring the further increase in U.S. troops. There are already 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, along with about 37,000 from other NATO countries, but many of the allied troops operate under their own special restrictions.

Petraeus has put together a 200-member team to review the Afghanistan strategy and he is expected to travel to the region almost immediately. His review, along with one being done at the Pentagon and another at the White House, should all be ready for the new president to review next year. Petraeus and the other U.S. military commanders will remain in place when the political leadership changes.