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Gates: Afghan Strategy Working as White House Conducts Review

Defense Secretary Robert Gates (L) is escorted by Afghan President Hamid Karzai after a joint press conference at the presidential palace in Kabul, 08 Dec 2010

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates declared Wednesday that the new Afghanistan strategy President Barack Obama announced a year ago is working. He made the comment during a visit to Kabul only a week before the White House is expected to release the results of a review of the strategy.

Standing next to Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Secretary Gates was unequivocal in the assessment he will bring to top level White House meetings next week.

"I will go back convinced that our strategy is working and that we will be able to achieve the key goals laid out by President Obama last year," said the defense secretary.

Secretary Gates said the surge of 30,000 additional U.S. troops and thousands more NATO forces has left the Taliban in control of "far less territory" than it had a year ago.

"The bottom line is that in the last 12 months we've come a long way, frankly progress that even just in the last few months has exceeded my expectations," he said.

On Tuesday, Gates was more cautious, saying at a forward operating base in Eastern Afghanistan that progress must be measured at local levels and that it is difficult to generalize by province or even by district. Gates spoke about the "tough fight" that lies ahead in some areas, where Taliban fighters are still in control.

In his comments on Wednesday, Gates said insurgent safe havens in Pakistan are still a problem, but that cross-border cooperation has increased, which he called "a very important and positive development."

"There's a common understanding that the safe havens are a threat," he said. "And they're a threat to both governments -- the government of Pakistan as well as the government of Afghanistan.

The White House strategy review is designed to determine whether the military surge and the focus on key areas by troops and international civilians are improving security, governance and economic development in Afghanistan, as intended. President Obama says he wants to begin to draw down the U.S. troop presence by July. NATO leaders agreed last month to try give Afghan forces security responsibility for the entire country by the end of 2014.

Officials have said they do not expect major changes in the strategy. Pentagon Spokesman Marine Corps Colonel David Lapan repeated that view on Wednesday.

"It's taking all the inputs from all the different members of the interagency that are involved in this, looking at the strategy itself and determining if there are any tweaks that need to be made. It's not going to result in a different strategy or major changes, but, again, making adjustments as needed," he said.

The White House is expected to announce the results of the strategy review by the end of next week.