US expects signs of progress in Afghan war 'by end of year'
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Wednesday he expected to see signs of progress "by the end of the year" in the NATO-led war in Afghanistan, despite mounting casualties.
Speaking in London, Gates said the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, "is pretty confident that by the end of the year he will be able to point to sufficient progress that validates the strategy and also justifies continuing to work at this".
But he cautioned that there were "no illusions" about quick victories and that there was a difficult struggle ahead, warning it would be "tough summer" battling Taliban insurgents.
Underscoring the rising violence in Afghanistan, military officers in Kabul said four NATO soldiers were killed Wednesday when their helicopter was shot down by hostile fire in the southern Afghan province of Helmand.
Gates said the United States and its allies were under pressure to show some success in the war, now in its ninth year.
In his meetings with Britain's new defence secretary, Liam Fox, Gates said there was "general agreement yesterday in all of my meetings that all of us, for our publics, are going to have show by the end of the year that our strategy is on the right track and making some headway."
He said improving government services and civilian development efforts formed an important part of the effort, but he said the rationale for the war was not a nation-building exercise.
"The reason we are there is for our own security," he said. "We are not there to build 21st century Afghanistan. None of us will be alive that long."
He said the United States had been attacked by Al-Qaeda militants based in Afghanistan in 2001 and "we want to make sure we are never attacked again from out of there."
© 2010 AFP