By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
June 4, 2007 – The expected spring Taliban offense here has turned into an "Afghan alliance offensive that has put the Taliban off their game," Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today. Gates and Afghan President Hamid Karzai told reporters during a joint news conference today that they're optimistic that efforts to rid Afghanistan of terrorists and build its new government are working.
"I absolutely think that this is a winnable fight," Gates said. "I think there has been real progress."
Gates said the 42-nation coalition in Afghanistan demonstrates solid international support that will ensure that progress continues. "And I am confident that the United States and our partners in the alliance will be here for as long as it takes to ensure victory," he added.
Karzai said the war against the Taliban, al Qaeda and terrorism was won in Afghanistan when these groups were stripped from power just a month and a half after the war started. "They were ruling Afghanistan five years ago," he said. "They were exporting terrorism from here to the rest of the world five years ago. Afghanistan was under their sway and control."
Karzai contrasted Afghanistan under the Taliban to today, with a democratic Afghanistan building its government institutions and its people living without Taliban oppression.
The challenge that remains, he said, "is to completely uproot them" from Afghanistan. "So the war has been won," he said. "It is the finishing touch that we are getting at now."
He thanked the United States for the role it has played, including "tremendous resources and billions of dollars" to strengthen its police and security forces and improve its citizen's lives.
He said he's confident that, with continued U.S. support, Afghanistan's institutions "will be as strong as reliable and standing on their own feet in a few years." When that happens, Karzai said, Afghanistan will continue to be a grateful partner to the United States.
Both leaders shared concern about civilian casualties that have occurred in fighting Taliban and other extremist elements here. Gates acknowledged that more caution needs to be exercised to prevent innocent civilian deaths, but emphasized that Taliban tactics make this extraordinarily difficult.
"We need to be more careful, but we need to realize that the Taliban are actually the ones who create the opportunity or the risk to civilians posed by military operations," he said. "The Taliban is deliberately putting civilians in harm's way. They deliberately mingle civilians with them. They deliberately put civilians up front."
Gates and Karzai also expressed concern about highly lethal weapons of Iranian origin that have begun appearing here. Both agreed there's no solid evidence that the Iranian government has any role in this.
Karzai said Afghanistan and Iran have never been as friendly as they are today and noted that Iran has been contributing to Afghanistan's reconstruction for the past five years.
A secure, stable Afghanistan is in Iran's as well as Afghanistan's best interest, he said.
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