U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that nearly all of the American surge forces have arrived in Afghanistan to press the new strategy President Barack Obama announced in December. At a news conference in Kabul with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Gates predicted more U.S. and Afghan casualties, but he said the strategy will work.
Secretary Gates said the U.S. and allied effort in Afghanistan finally has the right resources "to begin delivering tangible, lasting results." He said, however, that progress will not come without cost.
"As we expected and warned, coalition forces as well as Afghan Army and police are taking heavier casualties as we go into areas the Taliban has dominated for years. Having said that, our enemies are paying a very steep price and feeling more pressure than ever."
Gates said that pressure will intensify as coalition military operations expand. He said he believes it will lead to the reintegration of Taliban fighters and reconciliation with the group's senior leaders.
Gates noted that in addition to the 30,000 more U.S. troops, there are 7,000 fresh international troops - nearly three-quarters of their commitment - as well as triple the number of American diplomats and aid workers, and a substantial increase in the size and capability of the Afghan security forces.
The secretary also acknowledged that American aid money has contributed to corruption among Afghan officials. He said steps are being taken to change that, and he welcomed the Afghan government's anti-corruption efforts.
"The U.S. must make sure that American dollars and other foreign assistance do not fuel corruption. [U.S.] Ambassador [Karl] Eikenberry and [U.S. Army] General [David] Petraeus are putting in place new procedures and controls to accomplish this objective. And we fully support the Afghan government in its own efforts to address corruption."
Gates also said he and Afghan President Karzai agreed that the anti-corruption effort must be Afghan-led. Mr. Karzai issued a passionate defense of his stance on corruption in the face of mounting international criticism. He blamed the press for painting an inaccurate picture of his efforts.
"I hope you would do the job of conveying the concerns of the Afghan people and me as the president of this country to work toward building an Afghanistan, with the help of the United States and our other allies, that is a state based on proper laws and regulations that is a lawful state, not an abusive police state," said Gates.
The Afghan president accused foreign elements of involvement in the recent arrest and alleged mistreatment of a corruption suspect. He said that is why he intervened to get the man released.
Mr. Karzai also said that his decision to ban security contractors in four months, except on foreign compounds, is final. U.S. officials said the controversial decision will make it difficult for diplomats and aid workers to safely move around the country.