U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Istanbul, the first stop on a trip that will combine meetings with allies about Afghanistan and some bilateral talks.
Secretary Gates flew overnight to join his NATO counterparts at their quarterly meeting, where Afghanistan will be one of the main topics. The defense ministers will be joined by senior Afghan officials and by the NATO commander in the country, General Stanley McChrystal.
The general has the job of coordinating the efforts of troops from dozens of countries to implement the revised strategy President Barack Obama announced in December. The strategy includes an increase of 30,000 American troops, which has already begun, and at least 7,000 more allied troops, as well as an increase in the size of the Afghan army and police.
From Istanbul, Secretary Gates will travel to Ankara, Rome and Paris, for bilateral talks. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell says, although Gates meets frequently with officials of those countries, Afghanistan usually dominates the discussions.
"We have a, well, much wider-ranging relationship with those countries in the military realm than just Afghanistan," Morrell said. "... I think he feels the need to do nurturing on other non-Afghanistan bilateral defense issues.
This is a rare visit to Western Europe for Secretary Gates. But Morrell says he may be back soon for more relationship "nurturing."