By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
June 8, 2010 - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and his British counterpart today reaffirmed their nations' commitment to success in Afghanistan.
Gates and British Defense Secretary Liam Fox provided their perspectives at a news conference following a meeting here that touched on a variety of topics.
President Barack Obama's target of starting a transition next summer toward Afghanistan being responsible for its own security is just the beginning of that process, Gates said, and it will progress from that point as conditions allow. In any event, he added, the United States will not abandon Afghanistan as it did after the Soviet Union was driven out of the country in 1989.
"I think one of the important messages that we tried to communicate during [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai's visit to Washington – and that I think is important for all of us to communicate – is that we intend, as an alliance and as a large group of nations, to be Afghanistan's partner for a very long time into the future," he said.
The nature of that relationship will start transitioning next summer toward fewer military forces and more civilian efforts geared toward developmental and building Afghanistan's economy, Gates explained, calling it "the kind of developmental relationship that many of us have with a number of developing states around the world."
When Prime Minister David Cameron was forming the new coalition government here in May and asked him to take on the defense secretary position, Fox said, the first question he asked himself was, "Should we be in Afghanistan?"
"I've seen the human cost to our armed forces themselves [and] the sacrifices that they're making, and when I did ask the question, the answer had to be, of course, 'Yes,'" he said. "I still believe that there's a national security imperative. I believe that we cannot afford Afghanistan to lapse back into a failed state, which would create a security vacuum which will contaminate the region and possibly well beyond it."
The United Kingdom is committed to seeing its involvement in Afghanistan to resolution, Fox said, which he defined as creating an Afghanistan stable enough to handle its internal and external security. That goal illustrates the importance of NATO's training mission in Afghanistan, he said, noting that he and Gates will seek more trainers for that mission when they meet in Brussels, Belgium, with their NATO counterparts later this week.