The significant gains made in Afghanistan by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, over the past two years can take root and be sustained over time with proper support, said out-going U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in a recent speech to NATO's Security and Defense Agenda conference in Brussels, Belgium.
"Far too much has been accomplished, at far too great a cost, to let the momentum slip away just as the enemy is on its back foot," he said. "We made a great deal of progress in improving the capabilities of the Afghan national security forces, particularly the army, both in numbers and in quality," he said, and noted that the Taliban has been driven out of its strongholds in Kandahar and Helmand provinces.
"I believe these gains can take root and be sustained over time with proper Allied support," said Secretary Gates, cautioning Alliance members and partners from making unilateral decisions on troop adjustments. "The way ahead in Afghanistan is 'in together, out together.'
“Then our troops can come home to the honor and appreciation they so richly deserve, and the transatlantic alliance will have passed its first major test of the 21st Century: inflicting a strategic and ideological defeat on terrorist groups. . . .; giving a long-suffering people hope for a future; and providing a path to stability for a critically important part of the world," said Secretary Gates.
The Taliban will undoubtedly attempt a counterattack designed to increase ISAF casualties and sap international will, but ISAF must capitalize on the gains of the past months by keeping the pressure on the Taliban and reinforcing military success with improved governance, reintegration, and ultimately political reconciliation, he said.
"…we can achieve what I believe to be our primary goal, a free Afghan people who do not provide a safe haven for al Qaeda, reject the rule of the Taliban, and support the legitimate government that they elected and in which they have a stake. To accomplish all of this will take continued commitment of the alliance and of our partners, as well as the courage of our men and women in uniform."