‘Mod­est’ Troop Re­duc­tion: U.S.

Southasia - - On record -

On his farewell visit to Afghanistan last month, U.S. De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert Gates pre­dicted that the ini­tial draw­down of Amer­i­can troops this month would be “mod­est” and played down the pos­si­bil­ity of far-reach­ing changes in U.S. strat­egy this sum­mer.

Gates, who stepped down as De­fense Sec­re­tary at the end of June, ac­knowl­edged that the Amer­i­can pub­lic was grow­ing weary of the nearly decade-long war. But it would be “pre­ma­ture” to change course un­til it be­comes clear whether the U.S. and its al­lies can hold ter­ri­tory taken from the Tal­iban dur­ing the last year, he said.

Af­ter ar­riv­ing in Kabul, Gates had sep­a­rate meet­ings with the top U.S. com­man­der in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Pe­traeus, and Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai. Later, talk­ing to me­dia, he made it clear that he op­poses a quick draw­down of troops from the coun­try. He also held out the pos­si­bil­ity that peace talks with the Tal­iban, which U.S. of­fi­cials say have be­gun at a low level, could pro­duce re­sults later this year.

“I be­lieve that if we can hold on to the ter­ri­tory that has been re­cap­tured from the Tal­iban, be­tween our­selves and the Afghan forces, we will be in po­si­tion to­ward the end of this year to per­haps have a suc­cess­ful open­ing to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion” be­tween the Afghan gov­ern­ment and the Tal­iban lead­er­ship, Gates said, “or at least be in a po­si­tion where we can say we’ve turned the cor­ner here in Afghanistan.”

There are grow­ing in­di­ca­tions that the United States be­lieves it will have to reach a po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment with Tal­iban in­sur­gents in or­der to end the con­flict.

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