Washington, D.C. (March 7, 2011)—On his thirteenth visit to Afghanistan as Defense Secretary, Robert Gates voiced support for a long-term commitment to the American mission in Afghanistan. As reported by the Washington Post, Gates told soldiers at U.S. and NATO headquarters, “Obviously it would be a small fraction of the presence that we have today, but I think we’re willing to do that…My sense is [Afghan officials] are interested in having us do that.” He also noted negotiations with the Afghan government for a security partnership extending into the future.
Secretary Gates says he is using this trip to assess the progress of U.S. forces as the Obama Administration moves towards critical decisions about troop withdrawals. While he remains committed to beginning a withdrawal in July, Gates continued to emphasize that the size and scope of the drawdown will depend on conditions on the ground. The coming months will be critical as the U.S. military expects the Taliban to try to regain valuable territory in a spring offensive.
Chairman McKeon and Congressional Republicans have been consistent in emphasizing that the focus of U.S. commanders should be on winning, not achieving arbitrary timetables based on politics. As the Taliban gears up for another assault against American forces, our military’s time and resources should be spent protecting the Afghan population and denying the Taliban any territory from which to safely operate. Victory will protect the American homeland, not political plans for withdrawal.
Under Rep. McKeon’s chairmanship, the Armed Services Committee has placed renewed emphasis on oversight relevant to protecting the warfighter and protection of the homeland. Last week, the Committee held hearings on equipping the warfighter in Afghanistan and the posture of U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command, both of which are responsible for operations in Afghanistan. Future hearings will focus on achieving American strategic objectives in Afghanistan and bringing close scrutiny to the Administration’s proposals for withdrawal.