Gates blames lack of troops for Taliban advantage
Defence Secretary Robert Gates (pictured) blamed the Taliban’s renewed momentum in Afghanistan on the failure to deploy more US troops, as the Obama administration faces a critical decision on its strategy in the war torn county.
REUTERS - U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday blamed the past U.S. failure to deploy enough troops to Afghanistan for the Taliban’s revival and said U.S. troops would not withdraw regardless of the outcome of President Barack Obama’s strategy review.
“We are not leaving Afghanistan. This discussion is about next steps forward and the president has some momentous decisions to make,” Gates said in a TV program taped at George Washington University to be aired by CNN on Tuesday.
Gates said the Afghan and Pakistani governments should not be nervous about the U.S. review.
“I don’t think we have the option to leave,” said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. “That’s quite clear.”
Obama faces pivotal decisions after the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, presented a grim assessment of the eight-year war.
Eight American soldiers were killed on Saturday when tribal militia stormed two combat outposts in eastern Afghanistan, the worst U.S. loss in more than a year.
Gates urged U.S. military advisers to speak “candidly but privately.” He defended McChrystal, who has been criticized for appearing to lobby in public for more troops, calling him “exactly the right person” to command the war effort.
The administration is debating whether to send up to 40,000 more troops, or scale back the mission and focus on striking al Qaeda cells, an idea backed by Vice President Joe Biden.
Gates suggested the failure of the United States and its allies to put more troops into Afghanistan in earlier years, when former U.S. President George W. Bush shifted resources to invade Iraq, had given the Taliban an edge.
“Because of our inability, and the inability, frankly, of our allies, (for putting) enough troops into Afghanistan, the Taliban do have the momentum right now, it seems,” Gates said.
However, he said the United States could not afford to give al Qaeda and the Taliban the propaganda victory of a U.S. retreat in Afghanistan, where mujahideen forced the Soviet Union to withdraw after a decade of bloody warfare.
“That country, and particularly the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, is the modern epicenter of jihad. It is where the mujahideen defeated the other superpower,” he said.
“And their view is ... that they now have the opportunity to defeat a second superpower, which more than anything would empower their message and the opportunity to recruit and fund raise and plan operations.
“If the Taliban took control of significant portions of Afghanistan that that would be added space for al Qaeda to strengthen itself, and more recruitment, more fundraising.”
EMPOWERS AL QAEDA
“What’s more important than that in my view is the message that it sends that empowers al Qaeda,” Gates said. “The notion that they have come back from this defeat, come back from 2002, to challenge not only the United States but NATO, 42 nations, is a hugely empowering message should they be successful.”
As the strategy debate in Washington gathered steam, Afghan election authorities began a recount on Monday in the disputed presidential election held in August.
U.S. officials have cited allegations of election fraud as one reason for launching the policy review.
With casualties rising, U.S. public opinion has turned increasingly against what Obama’s aides once called the “good war,” in contrast to the Iraq war launched by Bush in 2003.
The anti-war left and foreign policy critics are increasingly calling for a U.S. pullout. Dozens of protesters gathered outside the White House on Monday, and a few were arrested when they chained themselves to the gates.
Seeking to shore up support, Obama invited senior Democratic and Republican lawmakers to the White House on Tuesday to discuss the war. He will meet his national security team to continue the policy review on Wednesday and Friday.
Obama almost doubled the U.S. troop total in Afghanistan to 62,000 to combat the worst violence since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taliban rulers in 2001. The U.S. invasion was in response to the Sept. 11 attacks carried out by al Qaeda, which had been given a haven in Afghanistan by the Taliban.
But signing off on the 30,000 to 40,000 troop increase that McChrystal is said to have requested would be politically risky for Obama because of unease within his own Democratic Party and fatigue among the American public after eight years of war in Afghanistan and six in Iraq.
Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morningSubscribe