By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 4, 2007 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today reaffirmed U.S. support for Afghanistan and said he continues to press coalition partners to live up to their commitments here. Gates praised progress in the Afghan National Army and its operations with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to take on the Taliban and other extremists. He said he arrived in Afghanistan concerned about the increase in violence over the past two years, but came to understand during his meetings here today that more violence is occurring because Afghan and ISAF forces are conducting more aggressive operations in more parts of the country.
The secretary acknowledged gaps in Afghan security forces' resources and said he continually presses some 70 nations and organizations working to help Afghanistan, including NATO, to help fill them.
"I have continued to press our allies in Europe and elsewhere to fulfill the commitments that they have made here in Afghanistan," Gates said during a joint news conference here today with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
Gates said the United States has allocated "significant dollars" to train and equip Afghan security forces, both in fiscal 2007 and in the proposed fiscal 2008 budget, particularly in the supplemental funding bill now under consideration by Congress. "And it is our hope we will be able to allocate those resources as soon as possible for this mission," he said.
But Gates said it's also time for other countries to do more to help the new Afghan democracy. "I think it is incumbent upon all of them to do what they can to provide the assistance that it requires," he said.
"I have made a point of this at every meeting of NATO defense ministers I have attended," Gates told reporters traveling with him while en route to Afghanistan. He noted that he plans to raise the matter again at the upcoming NATO defense ministers meeting in Scotland scheduled for mid-December.
Gates emphasized that taking on responsibilities in Afghanistan "was a joint commitment" by the coalition. "Now they need to fulfill their promises," he said.
The secretary joked before arriving in Afghanistan that he feels like "the salesman around the world for Afghanistan" as he works to garner more international support.
Karzai thanked the United States and coalition partners for their support to Afghanistan. "Afghanistan was liberated by the United States of America and the international community, who brought us to where we are today. So we are very, very grateful," he said.
Gates also toured the Kabul Military Training Center, where he witnessed military training under way that ranged from basic training to noncommissioned officer-level instruction and junior officer training.
The center is considered "the jewel in the crown of training of the Afghan National Army," Col. James Gludo, a Canadian army officer assigned to Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan, explained. In addition to basic military training, the center offers high-level military instruction for officers and the Afghan army's fledging NCO corps, he explained.
Gen. Bismullah Khan, the Afghan defense chief, told Gates today of his interest in professionalizing the Afghan National Army, emphasizing quality over quantity. Khan hinted at an interest in increasing the army, currently slated to grow from 50,000 members to 70,000 by the end of next year, by as many as 10,000 additional troops.
But Khan pointed to shortfalls that hamper such an effort, such as in equipment, particularly small arms and mortars, and troop trainers.