‘Modest’ Troop Reduction: U.S.
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.