By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 19, 2011 – The Taliban must know they are beaten before they reconcile in any meaningful way, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said on CNN’s "State of the Union" program today.
Gates told Candy Crowley that U.S. and coalition diplomats have been carrying out preliminary negotiations with the Taliban for a couple of weeks.
“My own view is that real reconciliation talks are not likely to make any substantive headway until at least this winter,” Gates said. “I think the Taliban have to feel themselves under military pressure and begin to believe they can’t win, before they are willing to have a serious conversation.”
American, Afghan and coalition troops have made significant gains over the past 18 months, the secretary said. Coalition and Afghan troops have booted the Taliban from Kandahar and Helmand provinces – traditionally the stronghold of the group.
The Taliban will have to meet the conditions for reconciliation including totally disavowing al-Qaida and supporting the Afghan constitution, the secretary said.
The Afghan troop draw down will be announced shortly, but everything will be conditions-based and even with a draw down there will be a significant number of American troops remaining in country, he said. President Obama has added 65,000 troops to Afghanistan since he took office.
The pace and the scope would be based on the conditions on the ground. “We will essentially present the president with options and with the different levels of risk associated with those options and he will decide,” he said.
The secretary sees the conflict in Afghanistan ending the same way it has in Iraq – “with us playing a key role for some period of time, building up the local security forces, … degrading the capability of the Taliban to the point where the Afghan forces can take care of them, and then transitioning the responsibility to the Afghans,” he said.
The transition has already begun with a quarter of the Afghan people, including the capital region Kabul, live under Afghan security leadership. “What you will see between now and the end of 2014 is the transition of the rest of the country over a period of time,” he said. “As the Afghan forces get better, we can pull back into the training and partnering role and more into counterterrorism.”
The American people are war weary, but they must understand that the commitment has been limited over the years, the secretary said. “The U.S. had a very limited commitment in Afghanistan until well into 2008,” he said. “We didn’t have the resources in place until summer 2010. I understand that everybody is war weary.
“But the reality is we won the first Afghan War in 2001-2002,” he continued. “We were diverted by Iraq and we virtually ignored Afghanistan for a number of years. I understand we have been at war for 10 years, but we have not been at full-scale war in Afghanistan except since last summer.