By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
May 30, 2009 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today called on U.S. allies in Asia to render more aid to bolster the fight in Afghanistan. In his opening remarks at the "Shangri-La Dialogue" Asia security summit here, Gates said terrorist groups rooted in training camps along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border have international reach, even to the Asia-Pacific region.
"I know some in Asia have concluded that Afghanistan does not represent a strategic threat to their countries, owing in part to Afghanistan's geographic location," he said. "But the threat from failed or failing states is international in scope, whether in the security, economic or ideological realm."
The secretary cited examples of terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia, and said some are inspired and supported by terrorist groups operating along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
"Failure in a place like Afghanistan would have international reverberations, and, undoubtedly, many of them would be felt in this part of the world," Gates said.
Gates cited the U.S. administration's strategy to surge troops and civilian aid into Afghanistan and to take on the threat on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border in a unified effort. But, he said, Afghanistan needs more aid to build needed infrastructure, funding to expand the Afghan security forces, and experts to help rebuild the country's health care, agricultural and education systems.
"The challenge in Afghanistan is so complex, and so untraditional, that it can only be met by all of us working in concert," Gates said. "All must contribute what they can to a cause that demands the full attention of the international community."
Afghanistan is no longer is a safe haven for terrorist groups, the secretary said, and it has a democratically elected government in place. The United States will spend billions of dollars over the next several years to help fund the country's expanded security force, because Afghanistan cannot currently afford a security force of the size it needs, Gates said. Countries that cannot send troops could donate likewise, he added.
Also, even if the U.S.-led surge in troops helps to stabilize the country's security, much more civilian expertise is needed for its rebuilding.
"It is one thing for us to be able to surge a number of security forces, but our civilian capacity is limited," Gates said. The United States will send hundreds of civilian experts and diplomats into the country in the next few months, he said, but the need still is greater than the commitments that have been made.