U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee that "the persistent and increasing violence resulting from an organized insurgency" in Afghanistan is a top concern of U.S. policy.
Secretary Gates said the United States must encourage Afghanistan and Pakistan to work together to deny safe haven to armed extremists. Part of that effort includes the establishment of more border coordination centers that are jointly manned by troops from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, and Afghan and Pakistani troops. Additional steps include following up on the 2007 Joint Peace Jirga and holding routine meetings of the Tripartite Commission.
"We must continue to work with the Pakistani government to extend its authority in the tribal region and provide badly needed economic, medical and educational assistance to Pakistani citizens there," said Mr. Gates.
On September 22, the United Nations Security Council unanimously extended the mission of ISAF in Afghanistan for another year and called for it to be strengthened to deal with increased violence by Taliban insurgents, al-Qaida terrorists, and illicit drug traffickers. ISAF now has 47,600 personnel in Afghanistan. It was established after the U.S.-led coalition ousted the Taliban regime in late 2001 to help the then-interim government maintain security. "We are very pleased that the Security Council has unanimously approved the extension of the mandate for ISAF," said U.S. Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad.
During a recent visit to the region, Secretary Gates met with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai. He expressed his regret, and the regret of the American people, for the civilians accidentally killed or injured by Coalition and NATO air-strikes. "While no military has ever done more to prevent civilian casualties, it is clear that we have to work even harder," said Mr. Gates.
The United States has 31,000 troops in Afghanistan, an increase from 21,000 two years ago. More troops are planned for deployment there.
Secretary of Defense Gates told the people of Afghanistan, that they are not alone in standing up to violent extremists. "Let there be no doubt that the United States and our many partners around the globe are just as determined to help your country win the peace and freedom you deserve."