U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates flew into Kabul on Tuesday to tell Afghan leaders that they need to move faster to increase the size and competence of their security forces, and to tell embattled U.S. troops that the United States is "in this thing to win."
Secretary Gates told reporters during his flight that he will ask Afghan leaders to increase recruitment efforts for their security forces and to take steps to convince those already in service to stay on. He also wants a faster and better training program to get more Afghan troops into joint operations with U.S. forces as soon as possible.
The secretary said that involves giving Afghan forces higher pay and the ability to rotate out of heavy combat zones from time to time. He said that much of this already should have been done.
"Well, there's a lot of this that's late in the game, frankly," he said.
Gates said he will tell Afghan President Hamid Karzai that he must appoint honest, competent ministers to help deliver government services to the people or Afghanistan. The secretary said several key ministers already fit that description, including the ministers of defense and interior. He added that he will reassure Afghan leaders that the United States wants a long-term relationship with the country, even after the need for large numbers of U.S. troops ends.
Gates said he will also seek the views of U.S. commanders in Afghanistan about the new plan President Barack Obama announced last week, which includes the deployment of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops.
The secretary is bringing a particular message to American units already in Afghanistan that have been hit hard in recent months by increasingly capable Taliban forces.
"A big piece of my conversation, especially with the soldiers, will just be to thank them for their service and for their sacrifice, and tell them we're in this thing to win," he said.
Secretary Gates also welcomed the announcement that NATO allies will add 7,000 troops to their 40,000-strong contingent. And, he said, more countries could add troops next year. He noted that the allies have had a different attitude toward the Afghan war this year, and have expressed a renewed sense of commitment, which is now being reflected in increased troop promises.
"I think partly it's the understanding that the situation has gotten more serious. But I do think that, sort of, their perception of a change in tone in Washington," he said.
Secretary Gates also welcomed Pakistan's increased operations against insurgents on its side of the border, and said the United States is ready to help as much, and as quickly, as the Pakistanis want.