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US Defense Chief: Passionate Debate, Not Division Over Afghan War Strategy

'Obama's Wars' is a new book by Bob Woodward
'Obama's Wars' is a new book by Bob Woodward
Meredith Buel

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says there was a heated debate last year over the Obama administration's war strategy in Afghanistan.  But Gates said Thursday he expects no major changes in the approach when the government carries out a review in December.  

Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Secretary Gates was asked to comment on allegations in a new book by Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward, which says U.S. President Barack Obama's top advisors argued over how to fight the war in Afghanistan.

Excerpts from the book, called Obama's Wars, say some key administration officials are doubtful the strategy will succeed.

Gates, who agreed to be interviewed for the book, made three points about the contents.

"The first is conflict sells," said Robert Gates. "The second, the relationship among senior officials in this administration is as harmonious as any I've experienced in my time in government.  And the third, and I believe this very strongly, is presidents are always well-served when there is a vigorous and spirited debate over important issues."

The Washington Post and The New York Times newspapers have published excerpts from the book, ahead of its scheduled release next week.

The book claims that although U.S. military leaders only offered plans to deploy larger numbers of troops in Afghanistan, Mr. Obama called for an exit strategy, with no long-term nation-building.

The president decided last December to send 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, fewer than the military had requested.  Mr. Obama also announced a July 2011 deadline to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan, depending on security conditions in the country.

The Woodward book details alleged strong personal differences and infighting among some Obama administration officials.

Gates said that once the president announced his decision, the government moved collectively to implement the strategy.

"People were often passionate about their views," he said. "But I will tell you that once the president made his decision, this team came together and has been working together to execute this strategy.  And that was last December."

This December, the military is scheduled to conduct  a review of the Afghan war.  Gates says he does not expect any major changes in U.S. strategy.

"I have not gotten a sense from my conversations with people that any basic decisions or basic - basic changes are - are likely to occur," said Gates. "I suspect that we will find some areas where we can make some adjustments and tweaks to try and enhance what's going on now."

Gates and top commanders say there are tentative signs of progress in Afghanistan, where nearly 150,000 U.S. and allied forces are fighting a resilient Taliban insurgency.

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