By Gerry J. Gilmore American Forces Press Service
Sept. 27, 2009 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates today gave his unequivocal vote of confidence to the senior U.S. military officer in Afghanistan. Appearing on CNN's State of the Union news show, Gates told host John King that Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal is "the very best commanding officer we could possibly have" as commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Gates said he believes President Barack Obama shares his strong confidence in McChrystal's abilities. In June, McChrystal took over as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan. In late August, the general submitted his assessment of how the U.S. should proceed in Afghanistan to the Pentagon and the White House. In his assessment McChrystal found that the situation in Afghanistan "is more serious than we had thought and that he had thought before going out there," Gates said.
McChrystal has said he needs more troops and other resources to get the job done in Afghanistan. Currently, some 68,000 U.S. servicemembers are deployed in Afghanistan, including 21,500 troops that have deployed since Obama announced the new Afghan strategy in March. When President Obama announced his new Afghan strategy, Gates recalled, the president also noted that that strategy would be reviewed following Afghanistan's presidential elections that were held in August. McChrystal also has submitted his separate assessment of the numbers of troops and other resources that he thinks are required to carry out his recommended Afghanistan strategy, Gates said on CNN. Right now, "we are in the middle of a process of evaluating, really, the decisions the President made in late March to say: 'Have we got the strategy right?'" Gates said. And, once everyone is confident that the strategy for Afghanistan is correct, Gates told King, then, the question of possible additional resources, including more troops, will be addressed.
Later today, on the ABC-TV "This Week" program, Gates told host George Stephanopoulos that "it's a matter of a few weeks," before the Afghanistan review would be completed. Stephanopoulos also asked Gates if accusations of voting fraud in the re-election of President Hamid Karzai will impact U.S. policy there. Gates replied that news of the flawed Afghan election surfaced after McChrystal submitted his first assessment report, and that two election commissions, one internal, the other international, are now studying how the election was conducted. However, the Afghan people still believe in their government, Gates said. "The key is whether the Afghans believe that their government has legitimacy," Gates said. "And, everything that I've seen in the intelligence and elsewhere indicates that remains the case."