U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is defending President Barack
Obama's new Afghanistan strategy, saying failure would mean a "Taliban
takeover" of the country.
Gates told U.S. lawmakers Wednesday that improving Afghanistan's security is key to ensuring the country does not become a sanctuary for al-Qaida and the Taliban to launch attacks.
The defense secretary's testimony (before the House and Senate Armed Services Committees) came a day after President Barack Obama announced plans to send 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined Gates in telling lawmakers the new strategy is the best way to protect the United States and its allies from future extremist attacks.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen (, who also spoke at the congressional hearing,) said the president's decision offers commanders on the ground the resources they need to confront the Taliban. But he stressed that his greatest concern is not troop numbers, but that military efforts be accompanied by good governance.
The top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, has also welcomed the troop increase.
Defense Secretary Gates said Wednesday the first of the additional U.S. troops will be deployed before the end of the month. They will focus on fighting the insurgency, securing key population centers and training Afghan security forces. The extra deployments will cost about $30 billion in the coming year and bring the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to about 100,000.
Secretary Gates and President Obama have also called on other countries to increase troop levels. There are currently some 39,000 non-U.S. forces serving in Afghanistan under NATO.
During Tuesday's speech outlining the new Afghan strategy, Mr. Obama said more troops will help accelerate the transfer of responsibility for security to Afghan forces and allow U.S. forces to begin leaving the country by July 2011.
Several U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday questioned the president's decision to set a withdrawal date for U.S. troops. Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain says such a date would allow Taliban insurgents to wait out the troop surge before reasserting themselves.
But Secretary Gates suggested there was some flexibility in the withdrawal plan and that President Obama set a date to get Afghans to take more responsibility for stabilizing their country.