U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ surprise visit to Afghanistan is not a surprise to national security columnist and editor of ‘The Washington Times’ Bill Gertz. ‘It appears to be coinciding with the completion of the first phase of a new stability operation, first in Marjah, now they’re focusing on Kandahar,’ Gertz told VOA. ‘I think he (Gates) wanted to get an on-the-ground assessment of how things were going, and that’s why he flew there to meet the troops and the commander, (U.S. Army) General Stanley McChrystal.’

Fighting is intensifying, according to Gertz, even though he says only about 6,000 of the expected 30,000 additional U.S. troops being sent to Afghanistan have arrived. ‘And, then they’re planning sometime this summer to move on to Kandahar which is really, both symbolic and real, a Taliban stronghold in the country,’ said Gertz.

The newspaper columnist and editor says he expects U.S. officials to get a better sense of the security challenges they face in Afghanistan prior to another anticipated U.S. strategy review expected at year’s end. ‘No one has any illusions,’ said Gertz. ‘Counter-insurgency warfare is the most difficult type of warfare and Gates was signaling that today (Monday) when he said there are still hard days ahead.’