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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the United States and its allies must work with whatever Afghan government emerges from last month's disputed election, offering a somewhat different view than the White House Chief of Staff expressed on Sunday.
Secretary Gates told reporters on the plane that U.S. and NATO decisions about strategy and troop deployments do not have to wait until the new Afghan government takes office, which could be several months.
"I think these things can move in parallel. Obviously, it would be easier if these things had come out in a different way, and been conducted without the kind of irregularities that have been identified," Gates noted, "and if all had been clear-cut early in September. But we just have to work with the situation that we find, as far as I'm concerned."
The secretary's comments are somewhat different from those of White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. On Sunday, Emanuel said the main question now is whether there will be a credible Afghan government to help provide security and government services, if foreign troops are able to reverse recent Taliban gains. In addition, prominent Democratic Party Senator John Kerry, who was visiting Afghanistan, said Sunday that it would be "premature" to deploy more troops without political stability in Afghanistan.
But Secretary Gates has a different view, saying the political problems in Afghanistan go beyond allegations of fraud in the election, and include widespread corruption. He said the coalition will have a lot of work to do to help build the legitimacy of the next Afghan government, regardless of who leads it.
"Whatever emerges in Kabul is going to be an evolutionary process," Gates said. "The outcome of the election and problems with the election have complicated the situation for us. But the reality is, it's not going to be complicated one day and simple the next. What we will have to do is, we and our international partners, work with the Afghan government in building legitimacy and in helping them tackle the problem of corruption."
Secretary Gates also stressed that U.S., NATO and coalition forces are not simply awaiting the outcome of the election dispute or the Obama administration's strategy review. He said the United States has deployed nearly all 68,000 troops President Obama has authorized, in addition to almost 40,000 allied forces. And he says they are actively pursuing operations designed to improve security for whatever new Afghan government is sworn into office.