|Sec. of Defense Robert Gates, (L) speaks with Lt. Col. Thomas Grattan III at Camp Lejeune, 23 Apr 2009|
Secretary Gates was asked about the impact on the U.S. effort in Afghanistan of the Pakistani government's agreement with militants in the Swat Valley and the Taliban move into the Buner district near the nation's capital, Islamabad, this week.
"My hope is that there will be an increasing recognition on the part of the Pakistani government that the Taliban in Pakistan are in fact an existential threat to the democratic government of that country," said Robert Gates. "I think that some of the leaders certainly understand that, but it is important that they not only recognize it but take the appropriate actions to deal with it."
Gates' comments came the day after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accused the Pakistani government of abdicating its authority to the Taliban by agreeing to impose Islamic law in Swat. Gates indicated that future U.S. relations with Pakistan depend, at least in part, on the government's ability to take on the Taliban threat.
"We want to support them," he said. "We want to be helpful in any way we can. But it is important that they recognize the real threats to their country."
Secretary Gates and other U.S. officials have repeatedly called on Pakistan to shift more of its military from the Indian border to areas where militant influence is growing in its west and north.
Speaking just after meeting with U.S. Marines who will soon deploy to Afghanistan, the defense secretary also spoke about the urgency of making progress in that conflict. He said the military will try to find reservists with needed civilian skills and send them to Afghanistan to help with development and governance until the State Department and other agencies can fill the need.
"We have a finite amount of time to show that we're going to make progress in Afghanistan, and I just don't want to see any delays, whether it's on our military side or whether it's on the civilian side," said Gates.
The secretary also outlined his view of what victory will look like in Afghanistan, comparing it to recent progress and current plans in Iraq.
"Victory in Afghanistan will look, I suspect, in many respects like success in Iraq, and that will be the Afghan national security forces increasingly taking responsibility for the security of their own people, both the police and the army, as we then move from a direct combat role, which we're very heavily engaged in right now, more into a support role and then eventually being able, as we are in Iraq, to draw down and leave," he said.
Secretary Gates said U.S. officials are now working on a series of benchmarks to measure progress in Afghanistan. He said they will include monitoring the growth and competence of the Afghan Army and Police, the effort to fight the narcotics trade and its funding for terrorism, and the West's ability to deliver aid to Afghan civilians.