Press Availability with Afghan Press (Afghanistan)

Article excerpt

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, Afghanistan, Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Good morning, and thank you all for coming. This trip, my fourth to Afghanistan as secretary of defense, is an opportunity once again to express my support for the government and people of this nation as you struggle to build a secure and prosperous democracy.

I had a frank and productive meeting with President Karzai this morning. I also met with members of his cabinet and other senior government officials. As I told them, I offer all Afghans my sincere condolences and personal regrets for the recent loss of innocent life as a result of coalition airstrikes. While no military has ever done more to prevent civilian casualties, it is clear that we have to work even harder. I have asked for a detailed briefing this afternoon about our close air support as well as our intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance operations. I will also be talking with some of our pilots. You have my word that we will do everything in our power to find new and better ways to target our common enemies while protecting the good people of Afghanistan.

Our interests are the same as yours: an Afghanistan where all citizens can strive for a better and brighter future without fear of violence and terrorism. To this end, the international coalition has increased its commitment to your government with more support both on and off the battlefield.

President Bush recently announced an increase in American troop deployments--which comes on the heels of similar increases by our partners. All together, by early next year the coalition will have added approximately 25,000 troops since 2006. This allows us, alongside the Afghan National Security Forces, to go after more extremists in their hideouts and hold on to our gains.

Ultimately, you are a self-reliant people who want to secure your own nation. So I strongly support Minister Wardak's plan to expand the size of the Afghan National Army to 134,000--and I will do whatever is necessary to ensure the proper training and funding of those forces. As we all know, security is just one aspect of this campaign. …