By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
March 25, 2010 - Though the number of trainers for Afghan security forces has increased significantly, the process is a work in progress and the American people must have patience, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here today.
Gates and Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also addressed the effects of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and the progress of United Nations sanctions on Iran.
The United States, NATO allies and international partners have added significant numbers of trainers for Afghan security forces, but more are needed, the secretary said. After Afghan units undergo basic training, trainers embed with them, with the units then partnering with coalition forces to continue training in the field. The coalition units also provide support and logistics that the Afghan government does not yet possess.
Gates said he will defer to Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the NATO and U.S. commander in Afghanistan, on training questions, and that he will take the advice of McChrystal and his staff.
Recruiting for the Afghan forces appears to be going well, the secretary said. "Retention and attrition levels within the army seem to be good and pretty close to goals -- not so with the police," he told reporters. "Those are still issues that need to be addressed."
Mullen blamed a lack of trainers for the lack of progress in police training. Training the police is crucial to a peaceful, secure Afghanistan, the chairman said, noting that police, not soldiers, provide neighborhood and town security.
NATO Training Mission Afghanistan is putting in place the structure to recruit and train the police, Mullen said. One problem is illiteracy, and programs are in place to teach police recruits to read and write. But the training "is going to take a long time," Mullen said.
President Barack Obama's strategy calls for the coalition to begin turning over security responsibility to Afghan security forces in July 2011, depending on conditions on the ground.
"I think this is a several-year process," Gates said. "The president wanted to send a clear signal ... to the Afghans that they also need to step up into this fight. And I think that the increase in recruitment for both the army and the police is testimony to the fact that they are stepping up, and to the fact that the Afghans in significant numbers, in both the police and in the army, are paying the price with their lives."
Gates urged patience on Afghanistan and asked the American people to take the time to let the strategy work.
"We've now been ... in the president's campaign for four months," he said. "We have a third of the surge forces that are going into Afghanistan that are there. This is going to take a little time. Let's not pull everybody up by their roots every week to see if they're growing."
The secretary said adversaries are using a lack of progress toward a Middle East peace against the United States. "There is no question that the absence of Middle East peace does affect U.S. national security interests in the region, in my view," he said.
Gates said the U.S.-Israeli military-to-military relationship is as strong as it has ever been, and that the United States has considered progress toward peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors as a national priority for decades.
Iran remains a problem, Gates said. The United Nations, he said, is working toward a resolution to impose sanctions on Iran if its government doesn't come clean about its nuclear program. Iran is suspected of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons, a charge the Iranian government denies.
"It is important to have a U.N. Security Council resolution to re-emphasize Iran's isolation [and the fact] that virtually all of the significant powers have real problems with ... Iranian behavior and with Iranian policies," he said. Such a resolution also would provide a legal platform for other organizations such as the European Union and individual countries to take "significantly more stringent sanctions," he added.