Gates: Forces to fight Afghan Taliban even after exit date
US Defence Secretary Roberts Gates said Thursday in Kabul that US troops would stay and fight the Taliban in Afghanistan even after the American military begins to draw down its forces next summer, dpa reported.
US President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 additional forces for Afghanistan this year in a bid to turn the tide of war against Taliban insurgents, but he also set summer 2011 as the start of the US troops' exit.
"Even as coalition military role will change over time, the long- term commitment of the United States to the Afghan people and to their security will remain strong and enduring," Gates told a joint press conference in Kabul with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The announcement of the withdrawal date by the US government has prompted concerns in Afghanistan and in some NATO countries that the Taliban would simply wait until next summer and then intensify its fight to retake the control of the country.
"If the Taliban really do believe that America is headed to exit next summer in large numbers, they will be deeply disappointed and surprised to find us very much in the fight," said Gates, who arrived in Kabul from Iraq, where he participated in ceremonies marking the formal close of the US combat mission in that country.
He however said that the US troops could not fight an open-ended war in Afghanistan. "The United States is spending over a 100 billon dollars a year in this fight in Afghanistan, America's sons and daughters are being wounded and killed."
"The American people need to know that 15 years from now we are not still going to be fighting this fight," he said, but added that his country was "looking at a long-term relationship with Afghanistan."
The Pentagon chief came on the same day that one NATO soldier was killed in an insurgent attack in eastern Afghanistan and another died in a similar attack in the south.
NATO did not disclose their nationalities, but a US military official said both were Americans.
The alliance also said Afghan and NATO forces killed 25 militants Thursday in two separate airstrikes in southern and eastern Afghanistan.
At least 20 of those insurgents were killed after they attacked an outpost in the Bermal district of the south-eastern province of Paktika, NATO said.
Five more insurgents were killed in another airstrike as they were planting a mine on a roadside in the Andar district of Ghanzi province, it said.
Taliban-led attacks are on the rise as thousands of fresh US forces have joined the Afghan war this year.
Gates said that all additional 30,000 US and 7,000 troops from other NATO countries had arrived in Afghanistan, taking the total number of foreign troops in the country to 150,000.