Gates praises al­lies’ help af­ter 9/11

De­fense chief says ter­ror­ism war is be­ing won

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY BILL GERTZ

De­fense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates was on his way to a busi­ness meet­ing in St. Louis seven years ago when his life was sud­denly dis­rupted. Like thou­sands of other air trav­el­ers, he was di­verted, and he spent three days wait­ing in Kansas City, Mo. “The pi­lot came on and said both of the World Trade Cen­ter tow­ers had been hit by air­craft and that ev­ery air­craft in the coun­try was be­ing grounded,” Mr. Gates said in an in­ter­view Sept. 10.

Mr. Gates did not know at the time that Is­lamic ex­trem­ists were be­hind the at­tacks. The hor­rific acts of ter­ror­ism killed nearly 3,000 peo­ple in New York and Penn­syl­va­nia and at the Pen­tagon and touched off an un­con­ven­tional con­flict that Mr. Gates as­serts is grad­u­ally be­ing won.

When he learned the facts, his “re­ac­tion was [al Qaeda] had fi­nally suc­ceeded in what they tried to do in the same place in 1993. I saw it as the lat­est in a se­ries of at­tacks against us that in­cluded the first World Trade Cen­ter [at­tack], Kho­bar Tow­ers [in Saudi Ara­bia], the [USS] Cole, the em­bassies in Tan­za­nia and Kenya,” he said.

“Be­ing a his­to­rian, it seemed to me that the world was go­ing to be very dif­fer­ent,” Mr. Gates said. “This was one of the first suc­cess­ful for­eign-based at­tacks on the con­ti­nen­tal United States with sig­nif­i­cant ca­su­al­ties since the War of 1812, so 189 years, and that was a big deal.”

Mr. Gates also did not imag­ine seven years ago that he would be called back into gov­ern­ment ser­vice, decades af­ter hold­ing se­nior po­si­tions at the CIA and White House Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

On Sept. 11, he presided at a cer­e­mony to un­veil a memo­rial to those who died at the Pen­tagon when Amer­i­can Air­lines Flight 77 slammed into one of the west­ern sides of the build­ing. The crash and the fire it caused killed 125 peo­ple in the build­ing along with 64 on the jet, in­clud­ing the five hi­jack­ers.

Pres­i­dent Bush also at­tended the cer­e­mony while both the Demo­cratic and Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial candidates made a rare joint ap­pear­ance at New York’s ground zero.

Al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ay­man al-Zawahri re­main at large, prob­a­bly in the tribal ar­eas of Pak­istan. Mr. Gates said, nev­er­the­less, that “great progress” had been made.

“The re­al­ity is, we are get­ting a lot of [bin Laden’s] sub­or­di­nates and mak­ing it much more dif­fi­cult for them to carry out op­er­a­tions,” he said. “What Amer­i­can on Septem­ber 12, 2001, would have be­lieved or even hoped or prayed that seven years later, not a sin­gle suc­cess­ful at­tack would have been car­ried out against the United States sub­se­quent to Septem­ber 11?”

Other key mea­sures of progress in the war on ter­ror­ism, he said, in­clude ma­jor in­creases in do­mes­tic se­cu­rity de­fenses, in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion and the elim­i­na­tion of safe havens for al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Al Qaeda sought to make Iraq the cen­tral front in the war “and they’re los­ing,” Mr. Gates said. In Afghanistan, “we won” in 2001, and the Tal­iban are still out of power. While ac­knowl­edg­ing that chal­lenges re­main, he said that the fun­da­men­tal­ist Is­lamist mili­tia does not con­trol a sin­gle district.

Mr. Gates also praised for­eign na­tions for their sup­port.

“One of the things that has im­pressed me, com­ing back into gov­ern­ment, is the range of in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tion in go­ing af­ter th­ese guys,” he said. “The kind of re­la­tion­ships we had with other coun­tries on this kind of a prob­lem when I left gov­ern­ment 15 years ago are dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent and broader to­day.”

Ear­lier, Mr. Gates told the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee that the draw­down of some 3,400 U.S. sol­diers from Iraq beginning this month and the re­moval of about 8,000 com­bat troops in Fe­bru­ary are the beginning of the “endgame” for U.S. forces there.

“The con­tin­u­ing draw­down is pos­si­ble be­cause of the suc­cess in re­duc­ing vi­o­lence and build­ing Iraqi se­cu­rity ca­pac­ity,” Mr. Gates said.

He ac­knowl­edged that Iraq con­tin­ues to face many prob­lems, in­clud­ing the prospect of new vi­o­lence prior to pro­vin­cial elec­tions, sec­tar­ian strife, Ira­nian in­flu­ence and “the very real threat al Qaeda con­tin­ues to pose and the pos­si­bil­ity that [Shi’ite] Jaish al-Mahdi could re­turn.”

As the U.S. draws down in Iraq, it will send 3500 more troops to Afghanistan, Mr. Bush said Sept. 8.

Mr. Gates said U.S. and al­lied forces are work­ing there “to counter a clas­sic ex­trem­ist in­sur­gency fu­eled by ide­ol­ogy, poppy, poverty, crime and cor­rup­tion.”

Adm. Michael Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the com­mit­tee that in cut­ting troop lev­els in Iraq and send­ing more forces to Afghanistan “we did not com­pro­mise one war for the other.”

The four-star ad­mi­ral called the con­flict in Afghanistan “a com­plex, dif­fi­cult strug­gle that will take time.”

Without a broader in­ter­na­tional and in­ter­a­gency ap­proach to Afghanistan, he said, “it is my pro­fes­sional opin­ion that no amount of troops in no amount of time can ever achieve all the ob­jec­tives we seek in Afghanistan. And frankly, we’re run­ning out of time.”

Afghanistan needs more than “boots on the ground,” he said, in­clud­ing civil­ian in­fra­struc­ture and a bet­ter sys­tem of gov­ern­ment and com­merce.

The Sept. 11 cer­e­mony at the Pen­tagon marked the open­ing up of the build­ing to or­di­nary Amer­i­cans. The mil­i­tary com­plex had been largely closed to the pub­lic since the 2001 at­tack.

The memo­rial con­sists of 184 lighted benches over wa­ter ar­ranged ac­cord­ing to the age of the vic­tims. The youngest was three-year old Dana Falken­berg and the old­est was John D. Yam­nicky, 71.

The two-acre site in­cludes a walk­way that is aligned with the flight path of the hi­jacked jet. About 80 maple trees adorn the area.

“The sim­plic­ity and the beauty [of the site] are just ex­traor­di­nary,” Mr. Gates said. “And I think the way it’s laid out, is that I think it will en­cour­age soli­tude. I think it will en­cour­age peo­ple to [. . . ] get lost in their own thoughts, without hav­ing to crowd to­gether as they do at so many of the other memo­ri­als around town.”

UNITED PRESS IN­TER­NA­TIONAL

A woman looks at a bench at the Pen­tagon Memo­rial fol­low­ing its ded­i­ca­tion cer­e­mony on the sev­enth an­niver­sar y of the Septem­ber 11th at­tacks on the Pen­tagon and the World Trade Cen­ter in New York City, at the Pen­tagon in Arlington, Va. on Septem­ber 11, 2008.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

7 YEARS ON: De­fense Sec­re­tar y Robert M. Gates tes­ti­fies on Capi­tol Hill on the “endgame” in Iraq.

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