US expects signs of progress in Afghan war 'by end of year'
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said 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, noting that US voters would not accept an open-ended "stalemate" with soldiers dying.
In talks with Britain's new defence secretary, Liam Fox, Gates said there was "general agreement... 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 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."
Gates stressed that 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."
He warned, however, of more bloodshed to come, saying the military expected a "high level of violence, particularly this summer" as coalition forces move into areas controlled by the Taliban.
Out of a surge of 30,000 troops ordered by US President Barack Obama, about 17-18,000 US troops had arrived in Afghanistan, he said.
Gates, who travels to Brussels later for a meeting of NATO defence ministers, said there was still a shortfall of about 450 personnel from allied countries needed to train Afghan security forces.
But he said he would not ask Britain for trainers, as London had already made major contributions of combat troops, having deployed about 9,500 soldiers in total, most of them in Helmand.
Countries that had been reluctant to send troops into combat ought to help provide the trainers needed to build up Afghan security forces, Gates added.
© 2010 AFP