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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the current review of U.S. and
NATO strategy in Afghanistan should remain private, and that the military
will do whatever the president orders. But in a speech in Washington
Monday, he also repeated his opposition to an approach advocated by
some officials that would rely more on air power.
Secretary Gates told a U.S.
Army convention that Afghanistan has been on a "worrisome trajectory"
with violence up 60 percent compared to last year. He said U.S. troops
fighting terrorism around the world are facing "increasingly
battle-hardened and lethal enemies."
The secretary told the
gathering that the decisions President Barack Obama will make in the
coming weeks "will be among the most important of his presidency," and
he needs to take the time to get the decisions right.
House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday the president is not
considering a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. The addition of
21,000 troops President Obama approved earlier this year, and more
aggressive operations against the Taliban and related groups, resulted
in a sharp rise in U.S. casualties in recent months, including 16
killed in the first few days of October. That's the same number killed
in all of October last year.
Senior commanders have recommended
continuing the counterinsurgency approach, focusing on ground
operations and requiring a further increase of U.S. troops. But
Secretary Gates says whatever the president decides, the military will
"It is imperative that
all of us taking part in these deliberations, civilians and military
alike, provide our best advice to the president candidly, but
privately. And, speaking for the Department of Defense, once the
commander-in-chief makes his decisions, we will salute and execute
those decisions faithfully and to the best of our ability," Gates said.
secretary has joined military commanders in criticizing proposals to
make more use of air strikes to target terrorist leaders in
Afghanistan, and to limit ground operations in order to reduce
casualties and avoid the need to send more troops. A month ago, Gates
said one such proposal was not in accord with reality.
not discuss specific options on Monday, but speaking about plans to
further modernize U.S. Army capabilities, he said this:
must always recognize the limits of technology - and be modest about
what military force alone can accomplish. Advances in precision, sensor
information, and satellite technologies have led to extraordinary gains
that will continue to give the U.S. military an edge over its
adversaries. But no one should ever neglect the psychological,
cultural, political, and human dimensions of war or succumb to the
techno-optimism that has muddled strategic thinking in the past," Gates said.
Gates will join President Obama and other senior civilian and military
leaders at two lengthy White House meetings this week to continue
discussing the way forward in Afghanistan. Officials say there will be
at least two more meetings after that, and they expect the president to
decide how to proceed within a few weeks.