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Gates Arrives In Afghanistan To Assess Conditions

By Donna Miles

Gates Arrives in Afghanistan to Assess Conditions

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates arrived here today on a fact-finding mission to get a face-to-face assessment from commanders about conditions on the ground, particularly in the volatile southern region.

The situation in the area will be the focus of a meeting the secretary is to attend next week in Scotland.

Gates, on his third trip here as defense secretary, told reporters he also plans get input from President Hamid Karzai and Defense Minister Abdul Raheem Wardak, following up his and Wardak's recent Pentagon visit.

The secretary last visited Afghanistan in June.

He acknowledged "there's clearly a lot going on" here and added that he plans to delve into the current situation with commanders and Afghan officials.

Among topics Gates said he plans to explore are operations in Khowst province, which has been described to him as "a model of the combination of kinetic operations and comprehensive strategic development."

"Were having very good results (in Khowst), and we're interested in ideas like how you might export concepts from this location to other parts of Afghanistan," a senior defense official traveling with Gates told reporters.

Gates encouraged greater application of this concept in U.S. operations -- combining "hard" and "soft" elements of U.S. national power to forward national interests -- during a major speech last month at Kansas State University.

He revisited the topic earlier today during a stop at Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa headquarters. Gates pointed to the task force's application of "three D's" -- defense, diplomacy and development -- in the Horn of Africa as a model for U.S. operations elsewhere around the world, including in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Gates said he also wants to look into whether recent trouble within the Pakistani government has had an impact on operations along the Pakistan-Afghan border.

As he receives briefings on the situation in all regional commands in Afghanistan, Gates said, he is particularly interested in hearing about operations in Regional Command South. The area, the most volatile in Afghanistan, will be the focus of a mid-December meeting in Edinburg of defense ministers from countries with troops committed to RC South.

Asked if additional U.S. troops are likely to be committed to deal with violence in the southern region -- a strategy defense officials report is proving successful in Iraq -- a senior defense official traveling with the secretary said it's probably "not in the cards."

The Regional Command South meeting and Gates' visit here are expected to resurrect the issue of caveats, restrictions individual countries place on their troops supporting NATO's International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan.

"NATO caveats are a restriction," another defense official traveling with the secretary told reporters. "And let's be frank. It's a problem. It's a continuing problem. I am sure it's one of the topics the secretary is going to raise."

Despite the fact that violence is up in some areas, Gates is not worried as much that progress in Afghanistan is slipping as "how we continue the momentum moving forward," he said during a news conference in Djibouti.

A defense official noted that during the recent NATO informal ministerial conference in Nordwijk, Netherlands, the secretary pressed for the alliance to come up with a strategic concept for its International Security Assistance Force.

Developing such a concept, would focus NATO on goals it hopes to achieve over the next three to five years "rather than thinking about heading for the exits in 2008," the official said. "Also, it provides an opportunity to take a look at what we are doing and seeing what we could be doing differently or better."


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