22 October 2009

Collaboration Drives Afghan Strategy Review, Gates Says

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates praised a close collaboration between the military and the White House in examining the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan yesterday, dismissing news reports of a rift.

"These stories may make good reading, but they are not a reflection of reality," Gates said here in response to a question during a joint news conference with Japanese Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa.

Gates cited a "very close, collaborative effort" between military officers, including commanders in the field, and civilian government leaders who meet on an almost daily basis as part of President Barack Obama's strategic review.

The national security team is working closely together to work through what Gates called "this very complicated situation in Afghanistan." He cited "complicated issues" associated with the Afghan presidential elections, but also the challenges Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander there, identified in his assessment.

Gates called the runoff election slated for Nov. 7 an important step toward moving forward in Afghanistan. "Getting that behind us and moving forward is very important," he said.

But while the run-off election will resolve outstanding issues regarding the presidency, Gates emphasized, the larger issue of establishing legitimacy of the Afghan government is a longer-term proposition.

"This is going to be a work in progress, an evolutionary effort, and we need to be realistic about that," he said.

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
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