Gates Arrives in Kabul
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Kabul in an unannounced visit on Tuesday amid growing doubts that the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan was succeeding against an increasingly deadly insurgency. Gates will meet President Hamid Karzai, who has chided the killing of civilians by foreign troops while hunting Taliban insurgents, but has backed last week's announcement that the United States would target militant safe havens in Pakistan.
Gates' visit came after a surprise visit to Baghdad where he handed over command of the war in Iraq to a new general charged with maintaining better security while U.S. troop numbers fall.
But in Afghanistan the United States plans to send more troops to combat the al Qaeda-backed resurgent Taliban. Violence this year is at its highest level since the 2001 invasion by U.S.-led coalition forces, with more than nearly 3,000 people killed.
Afghans have also been angered by a spike in civilian deaths in recent months and the country's Western-backed government has sought a review of foreign combat operations.
Nearly 1,500 Afghan civilians were killed in the first eight months of this year, many in attacks on schools, medical clinics, bazaars and other crowded areas, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
A bombing in August by the U.S.-led coalition in western Herat province opened a rift between coalition forces on the one hand and the Afghan government and the U.N. on the other.
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the U.S. House of Representatives Armed Services Committee this month that "I'm not convinced we are winning it in Afghanistan".
He said militant bases across the border in Pakistan would be targeted as a shift of war strategy.
The Pentagon is also worried about signs that al Qaeda is resurfacing in Afghanistan after losing ground in parts of Iraq.
U.S. commanders in Afghanistan have requested three more combat brigades, or about 10,000 more soldiers, to help cope with insurgent activity.
Some 33,000 U.S. personnel form a total of nearly 71,000 foreign troops led by NATO and the American military.
U.S. defense officials concede that military gains made in the early stages of the Afghanistan war, particularly in 2002 and 2003, were lost because reconstruction efforts did not follow and due to the few number of troops on the ground. (Reuters)