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US Defense Secretary in India for Regional Security Talks

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (File)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (File)

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The U.S. defense secretary has arrived in India for the first high-level talks between the two countries since Prime Minister's Manmohan Singh's visit to the White House, last November.  Regional security - namely the fight against insurgents in Afghanistan and Pakistan - is expected to be the dominant theme of the discussions.

On board his aircraft en route to India, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters a surge of thousands of U.S. Marines into Afghanistan's Helmand province is putting pressure on the Taliban in towns and villages.  But he cautioned that significant results should not be expected before the total surge force of 30,000 additional U.S. troops gets into place later this year. 

"We still are on track to have that 92 percent of the forces in there by the end of August.  And, to tell you the truth, there are some that we don't need to have in there before the end of August," he said.

Gates is expressing pessimism that Afghan President Hamid Karzai's outreach to Taliban leader Mullah Omar will bear fruit. The defense secretary predicts reconciliation would not occur until the insurgents "see that they are not going to win."

Gates arrives in India a day after the Taliban staged one of their most brazen attacks on the Afghan capital, setting off explosions in the heart of Kabul and engaging in extended gun battles with security forces.

In an opinion article by Gates published in Tuesday's Times of India newspaper, the U.S. defense chief makes an appeal for closer military cooperation between Washington and New Delhi for South Asian stability.  He calls India's pledge of $1.3 billion  for Afghanistan's development critical to realizing a fully independent Afghanistan that can support and defend itself.

U.S. officials say, on his first visit here in two years, Gates will discuss how New Delhi can extend its roles of promoting security in Afghanistan and counter-terrorism cooperation with Washington.

This comes at a time when relations remain chilly between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan. The United States wants to see the two rivals ease tensions to better confront the mutual threats from terror groups intent on carrying out further attacks in both countries.

Gates is praising the restraint shown by India following the November 2008 terror attack on its commercial capital, Mumbai, blamed on Pakistani militants.  The defense secretary says India has acted in what he calls a "very statesmanlike manner" since then.

During his two-day visit, Gates will meet with the Indian prime minister, as well as the defense and foreign ministers.

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