WASHINGTON: Amid growing clamour against the war in Afghanistan, Defence Secretary Robert Gates has cautioned that large numbers of US troops will remain even after a “limited” July 2011 drawdown. Gates was giving an interview to ABC’s “This Week”.
Despite mounting casualties and public doubts, Gates said on Sunday that the US-led force was making headway and Taliban insurgents would not be able to wait out American forces because a major troop withdrawal was not on the horizon.
“I think we need to reemphasise the message that we are not leaving Afghanistan in July of 2011,” said Gates, referring to a deadline set by President Barack Obama for the start of a withdrawal.
“My personal opinion is that drawdowns early on will be of fairly limited numbers,” he told
Asked if the Taliban could simply “run out the clock” until the mid-2011 target, Gates said that he would “welcome that, because we will be there in the 19th month, and we will be there with a lot of troops.”
The war has become increasingly unpopular with the American public and among Democratic lawmakers, amid a rising US death toll and a lack of confidence in Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Defending the US war effort, Obama told CBS’s “Early Show” that Washington’s goals were “fairly modest” and that the US had no plans to turn Afghanistan into a Western-style democracy. “What we’re looking to do is difficult, very difficult, but it’s a fairly modest goal, which is, don’t allow terrorists to operate from this region,” he said in an interview broadcast on Sunday.
“That can be accomplished,” he added. “We can stabilise Afghanistan sufficiently and we can get enough cooperation from Pakistan that we are not magnifying the threat against the homeland.”
Gates’s comments on Sunday echoed remarks by US Vice President Joe Biden who has said that as few as 2,000 troops might withdraw from Afghanistan by July 2011.
But the top Democrat in the House of Representatives, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said on Sunday that Americans wanted to see a more significant troop withdrawal.
A total of 413 foreign troops have died in the Afghan war so far this year, according to an AFP tally based on that kept by the icasualties.org website.
Two more foreign soldiers were killed in southern Afghanistan on Sunday, Nato said.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2010.