By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Dec. 10, 2009 - Senior Afghan military and national police leaders gathered today at Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' departure to thank him for his support for President Barack Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan and a strong military team to support it. The leaders, along with Army Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander of the new International Security Assistance Force Joint Command, were waiting for the weather to clear so they could fly to Kandahar. There, they planned to discuss details about where the incoming U.S. troops will go and what resources they will need.
Gates' arrival at Kabul International Airport following his visit here offered an unexpected opportunity for him to hear from them, and reiterate U.S. support.
"We have a commitment to you, and we will fulfill it," Gates told the assembly at his sendoff.
The United States will begin transferring security responsibility to the Afghans in July 2011 as planned, Gates said, but will stand by Afghanistan for the long term, with U.S. troops expected to operate there "for some time to come."
"We intend to be your partners for a long time," he said, noting sacrifices both Afghan and U.S. troops have made for Afghanistan's future. "This is a relationship forged in blood," he said. "And we will see it through."
Afghan National Army Chief of Staff Gen. Bismullah Mohammedi thanked Gates and Obama for supporting the recommendations of Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan. The concept, particularly the additional troop commitment, represents "a golden chance for Afghanistan," he said.
Mohammedi also thanked Gates for committing a strong, experienced leadership team in Afghanistan, led by McChrystal and Rodriguez.
The Afghan general assured Gates his country will take full advantage of the opportunities they have been provided, working in partnership with the United States and the international community to confront terrorism and other challenges facing Afghanistan.
Acknowledging casualties the United States has taken for Afghanistan's cause, he offered assurance the losses won't be in vain. "We will overcome this challenge, and we will succeed," he said.