Top Pentagon officials say the next 12 to 18 months will be key to victory in
the war in Afghanistan.
Testifying before a Senate (Appropriations) panel Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said they are now more optimistic about chances for success in Afghanistan.
Mullen told the panel the U.S. military has the right strategy to reverse the violence. But he said the next year and a half - in his words - "should tell the tale."
Secretary Gates said the situation in Afghanistan started to worsen in 2006 when neighboring Pakistan began negotiating peace agreements with extremist and insurgent groups. He said that allowed the Taliban to come back into Afghanistan.
Gates also praised the new strategy for Afghanistan, but said he is "very sensitive" about the number of U.S. troops being sent there.
As part of the new strategy, President Barack Obama ordered additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan. About 7,000 of the expected 21,000 additional U.S. Marines have already arrived and the rest are expected during the next few months. Thousands more support personnel are also on the way.
Gates is traveling to Europe for meetings this week on Afghanistan. He attends talks Wednesday in the Netherlands with nations that have forces in southern Afghanistan, and then heads to Brussels for a quarterly NATO defense ministers meeting on Thursday.