By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Germany, Feb. 9, 2008 - Numbers do matter, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said at a press roundtable here today. The counterinsurgency lessons of Iraq and the experiences of the U.S. surge into that country last year, proved to the secretary that not only the quality, but the number of troops involved in operations are important.
With that in mind, he has been particularly active in asking NATO allies to dig deep for more troops for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
Gates is attending the 44th Munich Conference on Security Policy. He said U.S. policy in Afghanistan boils down to, "anything more (that) anyone can do in Afghanistan."
While the alliance has not suffered any military defeats in the country, there are not enough troops to allow the alliance to make progress in all parts of the country, Gates said. There are about 43,250 international troops in ISAF, according to the NATO Web site.
In the "clear, hold, build" counterinsurgency strategy, the forces are able to clear, but are too few to hold, Gates said, which makes it close to impossible to reach the build section of the strategy.
"So we need to have enough troops there, that once these areas are cleared we can hold them, so economic development and civil development can proceed," the secretary said. "Ideally, those that hold the territory will be Afghan police and Afghan army," but they are not ready yet.
As the troops and police train, a short-term solution is a larger NATO-led ISAF. "Any additional numbers from any country are most appreciated," Gates said.
The secretary pointed out to the European reporters that the alliance had a very successful year in 2007 in terms of military operations. He said the press made a big thing, this time last year, about a Taliban spring offensive. "The offensive in the spring was NATO's offensive," he said. "There was no Taliban offensive."
He said one of the reasons he is sending 3,200 more Marines in Regional Command—South is to hold the military advantage in that area. "One of the reasons in seeking more troops is not because I worried that we may have setbacks or that we're not doing well, it's because I believe we need more troops in order to accelerate our progress and lock in our gains, and to make them permanent," he said.
Gates wants to remind Europeans what is at stake for them in Afghanistan. He said one reason why more Europeans are not supporting operations there is because many people cannot separate the fights in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Europeans who are opposed to what the United States has been doing in Iraq, have projected that to the operation in Afghanistan. So there probably has been some spillover in that respect," he said.
But he also believes there hasn't been enough discussion in Europe over the danger al Qaeda and extremists groups in the area pose to Europeans.
"I think we need to remind Europeans of the attacks that have taken place here, but also the attacks that have been thwarted and what the targets were," Gates said.
"There is a direct threat to Europe out of (Afghanistan)," he said. "I believe the governments of Europe understand this fully and so I hope to add my voice to the number of political leaders to be more explicit to the threat to Europe itself."
Defense officials have estimated that NATO forces in Afghanistan are roughly 7,000 to 8,000 soldiers short. U.S. Army Gen. Dan McNeill, the ISAF commander, said he needs three maneuver battalions, helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, and trainers – especially trainers for the Afghan police.