Gates Briefed on Afghan War Effort

Robert Gates, Hamid Karzai

Defense Secretary Robert Gates (left) and Afghan President Hamid Karzai give a press conference in Kabul, Jan. 16, 2007. Gates met with Karzai to assess the battle to tackle a resurgent Taliban militia. Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Afghanistan, where he's meeting with top U.S. and NATO commanders. The secretary arrived in Afghanistan as military officials warned of rising violence and a shortage of NATO forces.

Gates rolled into Kabul on a C-17, the aircraft often used to deploy soldiers and the safest way to fly into a war zone. While Afghanistan is not Iraq, it's still unstable.

The past year was the bloodiest in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, and the violence is not letting up.

"It's going to be a violent spring and I expect that we'll have more violence into the summer," predicts Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan. The Taliban have launched an unexpected offensive.

Eikenberry and his senior commanders briefed Gates behind closed doors most of the morning. The assessment Gates heard was not promising.

Compared to December 2005, the December 2006 level of attacks by insurgents was up by 400 percent.

Senior military officials warn that Pakistan — with few exceptions — is doing little to stop cross-border infiltration into Afghanistan by insurgents.

And to make matters worse, NATO — which provides about two thirds of the total force here — is stretched thin.

Countries like Germany and Canada are reluctant to increase their force levels because of opposition at home. It's one of the reasons why Gates is visiting with NATO commanders.

According to U.S. military officials, NATO's force is actually 10 percent below the size it's supposed to be.

While all the numbers seem to point in one direction, Eikenberry, the outgoing U.S. commander, argues that they're actually an indication that the Afghan insurgency is getting weaker.

"On the surface, yeah, we're gonna have more violence this spring," Eikenberry said. "But under the surface there are very strong currents that are going in the right direction."

Eikenberry says institutions like the Afghan government and army are getting stronger.

And while the numbers may seem bleak, there is strong empirical evidence to show that Afghans, unlike Iraqis, overwhelmingly back the international security presence in their country.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.