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Afghanistan: Obama v. Petraeus (Part 379)

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PETRAEUSAt the start of the year we closely tracked the political battle between the White House and military commanders, notably General David Petraeus, over the deployment of additional US troops to Afghanistan. This was nominally resolved at the end of March by a "compromise" agreement (even though the military got almost all of the troop request) in which Obama announced a new strategy of military measures supporting non-military measures to build up the country.

The situation was not resolved, either inside Washington or in Afghanistan, and we are back in another cycle of reports, spin, and power moves over another escalation in the US military commitment. One curious absentee, however, is Petraeus, who has not been far from media-shy in the past. Tom Englehardt digs beneath the surface for the story:

How Top Generals May Trap Obama in a Losing War

Front and center in the debate over the Afghan War these days are General Stanley "Stan" McChrystal, Afghan war commander, whose "classified, pre-decisional" and devastating report -- almost eight years and at least $220 billion later, the war is a complete disaster -- was conveniently, not to say suspiciously, leaked to Bob Woodward of the Washington Post by we-know-not-who at a particularly embarrassing moment for Barack Obama; Admiral Michael "Mike" Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who has been increasingly vocal about a "deteriorating" war and the need for more American boots on the ground; and the president himself, who blitzed every TV show in sight last Sunday and Monday for his health reform program, but spent significant time expressing doubts about sending more American troops to Afghanistan. ("I'm not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan... or sending a message that America is here for the duration.")

On the other hand, here's someone you haven't seen front and center for a while: General David Petraeus.

He was, of course, George W. Bush's pick to lead the president's last-ditch effort in Iraq. He was the poster boy for Bush's military policies in his last two years. He was the highly praised architect and symbol of "the surge." He appeared repeatedly, his chest a mass of medals and ribbons, for heavily publicized, widely televised congressional testimony, complete with charts and graphs, that was meant, at least in part, for the American public. He was the man who, to use an image from that period which has recently resurfaced, managed to synchronize the American and Baghdad "clocks," pacifying for a time both the home and war fronts.

He never met a journalist, as far as we can tell, he didn't want to woo. (And he clearly won over the influential Tom Ricks, then of the Washington Post, who wrote The Gamble, a bestselling paean to him and his sub-commanders.) From the look of it, he's the most political general to come down the pike since, in 1951 in the midst of the Korean War, General Douglas MacArthur said his goodbyes to Congress after being cashiered by President Truman for insubordination -- for, in effect, wanting to run his own war and the foreign policy that went with it. It was Petraeus who brought Vietnam-era counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) back from the crypt, overseeing the writing of a new Army counterinsurgency manual that would make it central to both the ongoing wars and what are already being referred to as the "next" ones.

Before he left office, Bush advanced his favorite general to the head of U.S. Central Command, which oversees the former president's Global War on Terror across the energy heartlands of the planet from Egypt to Pakistan. The command is, of course, especially focused on Bush's two full-scale wars: the Iraq War, now being pursued under Petraeus's former subordinate, General Ray Odierno, and the Afghan War, for which Petraeus seems to have personally handpicked a new commanding general, Stan McChrystal. From the military's dark side world of special ops and targeted assassinations, McChrystal had operated in Iraq and was also part of an Army promotion board headed by Petraeus that advanced the careers of officers committed to counterinsurgency. To install McChrystal in May, Obama abruptly sacked the then-Afghan war commander, General David McKiernan, in what was then considered, with some exaggeration, a new MacArthur moment.

On taking over, McChrystal, who had previously been a counterterrorism guy (and isn't about to give that up, either), swore fealty to counterinsurgency doctrine (that is, to Petraeus) by proclaiming that the American goal in Afghanistan must not be primarily to hunt down and kill Taliban insurgents, but to "protect the population." He also turned to a "team" of civilian experts, largely gathered from Washington think-tanks, a number of whom had been involved in planning out Petraeus's Iraq surge of 2007, to make an assessment of the state of the war and what needed to be done. Think of them as the Surgettes.

As in many official reassessments, the cast of characters essentially guaranteed the results before a single meeting was held. Based on past history and opinions, this team could only provide one Petraeus-approved answer to the war: more -- more troops, up to 40,000-45,000 of them, and other resources for an American counterinsurgency operation without end.

Hence, even if McChrystal's name is on it, the report slipped to Bob Woodward which just sandbagged the president has a distinctly Petraeusian shape to it. In a piece linked to Woodward's bombshell in the Washington Post, Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Karen DeYoung wrote of unnamed officials in Washington who claimed "the military has been trying to push Obama into a corner." The language in the coverage elsewhere has been similar.

There is, wrote DeYoung a day later, now a "rupture" between the military "pushing for an early decision to send more troops" and civilian policymakers "increasingly doubtful of an escalating nation-building effort." Nancy Youssef of McClatchy News wrote about how "mixed signals" from Washington were causing "increasing ire from U.S. commanders in Afghanistan"; a group of McClatchy reporters talked of military advocates of escalation feeling "frustration" over "White House dithering." David Sanger of the New York Times described "a split between an American military that says it needs more troops now and an American president clearly reluctant to leap into that abyss." "Impatient" is about the calmest word you'll see for the attitude of the military top command right now.

Buyer's Remorse, the Afghan War, and the President

In the midst of all this, between Admiral Mullen and General McChrystal is, it seems, a missing man. The most photogenic general in our recent history, the man who created the doctrine and oversees the war, the man who is now shaping the U.S. Army (and its future plans and career patterns), is somehow, at this crucial moment, out of the Washington spotlight. This last week General Petraeus was, in fact, in England, giving a speech and writing an article for the (London) Times laying out his basic "protect the population" version of counterinsurgency and praising our British allies by quoting one of their great imperial plunderers. ("If Cecil Rhodes was correct in his wonderful observation that 'being an Englishman is the greatest prize in the lottery of life,' and I'm inclined to think that he was, then the second greatest prize in the lottery of life must be to be a friend of an Englishman, and based on that, the more than 230,000 men and women in uniform who work with your country's finest day by day are very lucky indeed, as am I.")

Only at mid-week, with Washington aboil, did he arrive in the capital for a counterinsurgency conference at the National Press Club and quietly "endorse" "General McChrystal's assessment." Whatever the look of things, however, it's unlikely that Petraeus is actually on the sidelines at this moment of heightened tension. He is undoubtedly still The Man.

So much is, of course, happening just beyond the sightlines of those of us who are mere citizens of this country, which is why inference and guesswork are, unfortunately, the order of the day. Read any account in a major newspaper right now and it's guaranteed to be chock-a-block full of senior officials and top military officers who are never "authorized to speak," but nonetheless yak away from behind a scrim of anonymity. Petraeus may or may not be one of them, but the odds are reasonable that this is still a Petraeus Moment.

If so, Obama has only himself to blame. He took up Afghanistan ("the right war") in the presidential campaign as proof that, despite wanting to end the war in Iraq, he was tough. (Why is it that a Democratic candidate needs a war or threat of war to trash-talk about in order to prove his "strength," when doing so is obviously a sign of weakness?)

Once in office, Obama compounded the damage by doubling down his bet on the war. In March, he introduced a "comprehensive new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan" in his first significant public statement on the subject, which had expansion written all over it. He also agreed to send in 21,000 more troops (which, by the way, Petraeus reportedly convinced him to do). In August, in another sign of weakness masquerading as strength, before an unenthusiastic audience at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, he unnecessarily declared: "This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity." All of this he will now pay for at the hands of Petraeus, or if not him, then a coterie of military men behind the latest push for a new kind of Afghan War.

As it happens, this was never Obama's "war of necessity." It was always Petraeus's. And the new report from McChrystal and the Surgettes is undoubtedly Petraeus's progeny as well. It seems, in fact, cleverly put together to catch a cautious president, who wasn't cautious enough about his war of choice, in a potentially devastating trap. The military insistence on quick action on a troop decision sets up a devastating choice for the president: "Failure to provide adequate resources also risks a longer conflict, greater casualties, higher overall costs, and ultimately, a critical loss of political support. Any of these risks, in turn, are likely to result in mission failure." Go against your chosen general and the failure that follows is yours alone. (Unnamed figures supposedly close to McChrystal are already launching test balloons, passed on by others, suggesting that the general might resign in protest if the president doesn't deliver -- a possibility he has denied even considering.) On the other hand, offer him somewhere between 15,000 and 45,000 more American troops as well as other resources, and the failure that follows will still be yours.

It's a basic lose-lose proposition and, as journalist Eric Schmitt wrote in a New York Times assessment of the situation, "it will be very hard to say no to General McChrystal." No wonder the president and some of his men are dragging their feet and looking elsewhere. As one typically anonymous "defense analyst" quoted in the Los Angeles Times said, the administration is suffering "buyer's remorse for this war... They never really thought about what was required, and now they have sticker shock."

Admittedly, according to the latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, 51% of Americans are against sending in more troops. (Who knows how they would react to a president who went on TV to announce that he had genuinely reconsidered?) Official Washington is another matter. For General Petraeus, who claims to have no political ambitions but is periodically mentioned as the Eisenhower of 2012, how potentially peachy to launch your campaign against the president who lost you the war.

A Petraeus Moment?

In the present context, the media language being used to describe this military-civilian conflict of wills -- frustration, impatience, split, rupture, ire -- may fall short of capturing the import of a moment which has been brewing, institutionally speaking, for a long time. There have been increasing numbers of generals' "revolts" of various sorts in our recent past. Of course, George W. Bush was insistent on turning planning over to his generals (though only when he liked them), something Barack Obama criticized him for during the election campaign. ("The job of the commander in chief is to listen to the best counsel available and to listen even to people you don't agree with and then ultimately you make the final decision and you take responsibility for those actions.")

Now, it looks as if we are about to have a civilian-military encounter of the first order in which Obama will indeed need to take responsibility for difficult actions (or the lack thereof). If a genuine clash heats up, expect more discussion of "MacArthur moments," but this will not be Truman versus MacArthur redux, and not just because Petraeus seems to be a subtler political player than MacArthur ever was.

Over the nearly six decades that separate us from Truman's great moment, the Pentagon has become a far more overwhelming institution. In Afghanistan, as in Washington, it has swallowed up much of what once was intelligence, as it is swallowing up much of what once was diplomacy. It is linked to one of the two businesses, the Pentagon-subsidized weapons industry, which has proven an American success story even in the worst of economic times (the other remains Hollywood). It now holds a far different position in a society that seems to feed on war.

It's one thing for the leaders of a country to say that war should be left to the generals when suddenly embroiled in conflict, quite another when that country is eternally in a state of war. In such a case, if you turn crucial war decisions over to the military, you functionally turn foreign policy over to them as well. All of this is made more complicated, because the cast of "civilians" theoretically pitted against the military right now includes Karl W. Eikenberry, a retired lieutenant general who is the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Douglas Lute, a lieutenant general who is the president's special advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan (dubbed the "war czar" when he held the same position in the Bush administration), and James Jones, a retired Marine Corps general, who is national security advisor, not to speak of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

The question is: will an already heavily militarized foreign policy geared to endless global war be surrendered to the generals? Depending on what Obama does, the answer to that question may not be fully, or even largely, clarified this time around. He may quietly give way, or they may, or compromises may be reached behind the scenes. After all, careers and political futures are at stake.

But consider us warned. This is a question that is not likely to go away and that may determine what this country becomes.

We know what a MacArthur moment was; we may find out soon enough what a Petraeus moment is.

Transcripts: Secretary of Defense Gates on CNN, ABC

Iran’s Nukes: Did Gates Just Complicate the Obama Position?

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GATESRobert Gates on CNN's "State of the Union"

JOHN KING: Mr. Secretary, thank you for joining us.

We learned as the week came to an end about a new underground secret Iranian nuclear bunker, and the president described it this way. “The size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful program.”

Tell us more about what we know, and do you have any doubt Iran was using this facility or planned to use this facility to develop nuclear weapons?

GATES: We’ve been watching the construction of this facility for quite some time, and one of the reasons that we waited to make it public was to ensure that our conclusions about its purpose were right.

This is information shared among ourselves, the British, the French, as we’ve gone along. And I think that, certainly, the intelligence people have no doubt that this is an illicit nuclear facility, if only because the Iranians kept it a secret. If they wanted it for peaceful nuclear purposes, there’s no reason to put it so deep underground, no reason to be deceptive about it, keep it a secret for a protracted period of time.

KING: Take me back in time. You say you’ve known about it for some time, dating back into the Bush administration. You, of course, were serving in the Bush administration. How far back?

GATES: Well, it’s hard for me to remember, but at least a couple of years we’ve been watching it.

KING: At least a couple of years. Because the former vice president, Dick Cheney, is on record as saying in the closing months of the administration, he was an advocate for possibly using military action against some of these Iranian sites. Was this one of his targets, this area we’ve just learned about?

GATES: Well, I think I’ll just let his statement speak for itself.

KING: All right. We know -- and correct me if I’m wrong, please -- that you were skeptical about that, in fact, opposed to that. You didn’t think that was the way to go. Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, has said publicly many times how skeptical he is about the military options here. I just want you to help an American out there who says, we can’t trust Ahmadinejad, this has been going on for years. We don’t think sanctions will work. Why don’t we do something about it? Explain to that person out there, whether they work in the United States Congress or whether it’s just an average American, when you look at the contingencies that you have available to you and the president has available to him, are there any good military options when it comes to these deep underground facilities?

GATES: Well, without getting into any specifics, I would just say we obviously don’t take any options off the table.

My view has been that there has been an opportunity through the use of diplomacy and economic sanctions to persuade the Iranians to change their approach to nuclear weapons.

The reality is, there is no military option that does anything more than buy time. The estimates are one to three years or so. And the only way you end up not having a nuclear capable Iran is for the Iranian government to decide that their security is diminished by having those weapons as opposed to strengthened.

So I think, as I say, while you don’t take options off the table, I think there’s still room left for diplomacy. The P5 plus 1 [US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, China] will be meeting with Iran here shortly. The Iranians are in a very bad spot now because of this deception, in terms of all of the great powers. And there obviously is the opportunity for severe additional sanctions. And I think we have the time to make that work.

KING: I want to get to that diplomacy in just a minute, but when you shared this intelligence with others, I want to ask you specifically about the case of Israel, which you know in the past has been very skeptical about the diplomatic route. And many have thought perhaps Israel would take matters into its own hands because it is in the neighborhood. What did the Israeli government, specifically the Israeli military, say when they learned of this intelligence, about this new second facility?

GATES: Well, Israel, obviously, thinks of the Iranian nuclear program as an existential threat to Israel. We’ve obviously been in close touch with them, as our ally and friend, and continue to urge them to let this diplomatic and economic sanctions path play out.

KING: And as that goes forward, President Sarkozy was quite skeptical and he was very clear, this year, December, he wants to see progress or else we’ll see tougher sanctions. From your perspective, what sanctions would have the most teeth, would work?

GATES: Well, there are a variety of options still available, including sanctions on banking, particularly sanctions on equipment and technology for their oil and gas industry. I think there’s a pretty rich list to pick from, actually.

KING: If you look at that list, though, in some of those cases, you’ll find the suppliers, gasoline, imports, some of the equipment and technology would be China, would you not?

GATES: China’s participation is clearly important.

KING: And the early indications are they will or won’t help?

GATES: Well, I haven’t had -- I haven’t had an opportunity to talk to the president or those who were with him in Pittsburgh, so I don’t know the nature of the conversations that they had with the Chinese there, but I do have the sense that the Chinese take this pretty seriously.

KING: Let me ask you about the situation in Iran, as this diplomacy goes forward. You’re the defense secretary now. You have been the director of Central Intelligence. When you look at post- election Iran, all the talk of turmoil, reports of tension between Ahmadinejad and the clerics, Ahmadinejad and the reforms, is the water bubbling or is the water boiling in the sense that you just see trouble or do you see potential seeds of revolution?

GATES: Well, I guess I would say it’s simmering. It’s clear in the aftermath of the election, that there are some fairly deep fissures in Iranian society and politics, and probably even in the leadership. And frankly, this is one of the reasons why I think additional and especially severe economic sanctions could have some real impact, because we know that the sanctions that have already been placed on the country have had an impact. The unemployment among youth is about 40 percent. They have some real serious problems, especially with the younger people.

So I think that we are seeing some changes or some divisions in the Iranian leadership and in society that we really haven’t seen in the 30 years since the revolution.

KING: And if you think sanctions work and this is a clear violation -- they hid this from the world, they hid this from everybody, in clear violation of their commitments -- why wait? Why not slap tougher sanctions now? Why wait until the end of the year?

GATES: Well, the opportunity exists in the October 1st meeting and over the next few weeks to see if we can leverage publicizing this additional illegal facility and activity to leverage the Iranians to begin to make some concessions, to begin to abide by the U.N. Security Council resolutions.

GATES: I think we are all sensitive to the possibility of the Iranians trying to run the clock out on us. And so nobody thinks of this as an open-ended process.

KING: And so, lastly, on this point, this facility, obviously, is not on-line yet. It is under construction, not on-line. So Iran’s capability in terms of being ready to perhaps have a nuclear bomb, in the past, the public statements have been a year to three away. Is that still operational?

GATES: That would be my view.

KING: The defense secretary, Robert Gates.

We’ll be back in just a moment with another big decision facing the secretary and the president, whether to send thousands more U.S. troops into Afghanistan. Stay with us.


KING: We’re back with the defense secretary, Robert Gates.

Very momentous decision. Recommendation you will have to make to the president, the president will have to make to the nation about whether to send thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of more troops into Afghanistan. I want to start with a threshold question. Do you have full confidence in the commanding general, Stanley McChrystal, on the ground in Afghanistan now?

GATES: Absolutely. I think we have in General McChrystal the very best commanding officer we could possibly have there.

KING: Does the president share that?

GATES: I believe so.

KING: And then is it a logical extension then to go on to say, if you have such full confidence, that if General McChrystal says, I need 40,000 more troops, he will get them?

GATES: I think we are in the middle of a review. The president, when he made his decisions on strategy in Afghanistan at the end of March, said that after the Afghan elections, that we would review where we are and review the strategy.

We now, in addition to that, have General McChrystal’s assessment of the situation. He found a situation in Afghanistan that is more serious than we had thought and that he had thought before going out there. So we’re in the middle of a process of evaluating, really, the decisions the president made in late March to say, have we got the strategy right? And once we confidently have the strategy right, then we’ll address the question of additional resource...


KING: As you know, some of your friends on Capitol Hill are saying, why wait, in the sense of because of the ominous warnings, General McChrystal sounds, in his report, among them, this: “Failure to gain the initiative and reverse insurgent momentum in the near term, over the next 12 months, while Afghan security capability matures, risks an outcome where defeating the insurgency is no longer possible.”

If the situation is that dire and he believes he needs more troops, why wait?

GATES: Well, first of all, I would like to remember -- remind people that the debate within the Bush administration over the surge took about three months, from October to December 2006.

It’s very important that we get this right and there is always a dialogue between the chiefs -- the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Centcom commander, and our commander in the field. We had the same kind of dialogue with General Odierno about the timing of pulling our combat units out of Iraq. And the conclusion of all of that was actually for General Odierno to take some additional risk. And it has proved to work very well.

So the question is, there has got to be some dialogue between the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the commander of Central Command, as well as General McChrystal, and then a discussion among the president’s national security team.

KING: You know the conversation in town,though, some, understand the surge debate, find this one rather remarkable in the sense that you now have General McChrystal, part of his report has leaked out, saying he needs more troops. Admiral Mullen has testified to Congress recently he believes we’re going to need more troops. Some see an effort to almost put the president in a box before he deals with the other issues.

If you have the military, the admiral and the generals on record saying we need more troops, does the president really have a choice to say no?

GATES: Well, I think the president always has a choice. He’s the commander-in-chief.

The reality is, do we need additional forces? How many additional forces? And to do what?

And it’s the “to do what?” that I think we need to make sure we have confidence we understand before making recommendations to the president.

KING: Help me on that point, because there’s a lot of questions about the legitimacy of the election. Did President Karzai commit fraud to the level at which he perhaps has stolen the election? The political vacuum could be months. You may have to make your decision uncertain as to the political leadership in Afghanistan unless you wait. There could be a runoff. There could be contestments (ph) and challenges. Would you prefer some sort of power-sharing arrangement to move past this vacuum?

GATES: Well, I don’t think it’s up to us to tell the Afghans how to organize their government. The reality is that you still have an election process playing out. You have both the Afghan and the international election commissions evaluating the ballots. And if they come to a conclusion that there was a real winner, then I think it has legitimacy for both the international and the national -- and the Afghan audience.

But I think, above all, what’s important is whether or not the government of Afghanistan has legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghans. All of the information that we have available to us today indicates that continues to be the case.

KING: Let’s turn to the debate back home. You try to stay of the politics, but it does influence what happens in this town. As you know, a growing number of people on Capitol Hill want a clearer exit strategy. They want benchmarks. They want to know where the end is. Some have even said -- a few, but some have said we need a time line to get U.S. troops out. And now a liberal organization that was very vocal in the Iraq political debate is urging its members to call the president, e-mail the White House and say, don’t send tens of thousands more U.S. troops to be stuck in a quagmire.

Is Afghanistan a quagmire?

GATES: I don’t think so, and I think that with a general like McChrystal, it won’t become one. I think that we are being very careful to look at this as we go along. We’ve put out metrics so that we can measure whether or not we’re making progress. And if we’re not making progress, then we’re prepared to adjust our strategy, just as we’re looking at whether adjustments are needed right now.

So I think that the notion of time lines and exit strategies and so on, frankly, I think, would all be a strategic mistake. The reality is, failure in Afghanistan would be a huge setback for the United States. Taliban and Al Qaida as far as they’re concerned, defeated one superpower. For them to be seen to defeat a second, I think would have catastrophic consequences in terms of energizing the extremist movement, Al Qaida recruitment, operations, fundraising, and so on.

I think it would be a huge setback for the United States. I think what we need is a strategy that we think can be successful and then to pursue it, and pursue it with confidence and resolution.

KING: You mentioned the history, and you’re a student of history, and you’re on the record talking about how this did become a quagmire for the Soviets, who had about 120,000 troops in Afghanistan. And you have said many times the Afghan people began to view them as occupiers, not as friends.

Where’s the line for the United States so that you don’t cross that very same line?

GATES: Well, I think the analogy of the situation with the Soviets really doesn’t hold. The Soviets’ presence in Afghanistan was condemned by virtually every country in the world. They conducted a war of terror against the Afghans. They probably killed 1 million Afghans, made 5 million of them into refugees, tried to impose an alien social and cultural change on the country.

So the situations are completely different. And I think that the -- I think the Afghans continue to see us as their ally and partner.

KING: General McChrystal, in an interview that will air on “60 Minutes” tonight, talks about the breadth and the geographic spread of the violence in Afghanistan. He says, “It’s a little more than I would have gathered.”

We’ve been at this nearly eight years. Why are we still surprised?

GATES: Well, I will tell you, I think that the strategy that the president put forward in late March is the first real strategy we have had for Afghanistan since the early 1980s. And that strategy was more about the Soviet Union than it was about Afghanistan.

KING: You served in the Bush administration. That’s a pretty broad damnation of the Bush strategy.

GATES: Well, the reality is, we were fighting a holding action. We were very deeply engaged in Iraq. I increased -- I extended the 10th Mountain Division the first month I was on this job in January of ‘07. I extended -- I put another brigade into Afghanistan in the spring of 2007. And that’s all we had to put in there. Every -- we were -- we were too stretched to do more. And I think we did not have the kind of comprehensive strategy that we have now.

KING: And if it comes to the point of sending more, this time, if the president agrees and General McChrystal gets -- maybe it’s 20,000, 30,000, or 40,000, do we have the troops now? If you needed 40,000, could you find it?

GATES: Well, I think, if the president were to decide to approve additional combat forces, they really probably could not begin to flow until some time in January.

KING: We’re about out of time. I want to ask you a couple quick questions in closing. One is, do you see any chance now, because of the delays in the political problems, that the administration will keep its promise to close Gitmo, the Guantanamo Bay detention center, in one year, as promised?

GATES: Well, I think -- I think it has proven more complicated than anticipated. I will be the first to tell you that, when the president-elect’s national security new team met in Chicago on December 7th, I was one of those who argued for a firm deadline. Because I said that’s the only way you move the bureaucracy in Washington.

And you have to extend that date, if at least you have a strong plan, showing you’re making progress in that direction, then it shouldn’t be a problem to extend it. And we’ll just see whether that has to happen or not.

KING: And lastly, you served eight presidents. What makes this one unique, or is there anything unique when it comes to these decisions of war and peace?

GATES: He is very analytical. He’s very deliberate about the way he goes through things. He wants to understand everything. He delves very deeply into these issues. I’m not going to get into comparing the different presidents. I very much enjoy working for this one.

KING: Mr. Secretary, thank for your time.

GATES: Thank you.

Robert Gates on ABC's This Week

STEPHANOPOULOS: And we begin with the secretary of defense, Robert Gates.

Welcome back to “This Week.”

GATES: Thank you.

STEPHANOPOULOS: National security was front and center all week long. Let’s begin with Afghanistan. We saw the leak of General McChrystal’s review, and he concluded that the United States has about 12 months to reverse Taliban momentum and that, without new troops, the strategy laid out by the president is likely to fail.

And I want to show what the president said back in March when he laid out that strategy. He called it “new and comprehensive.”


OBAMA: This marks the conclusion of a careful policy review. My administration has heard from our military commanders, as well as our diplomats. We’ve consulted with the Afghan and Pakistani governments, with our partners and our NATO allies, and with other donors and international organizations. We’ve also worked closely with members of Congress here at home.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Now, this was clearly a carefully considered strategy. And now the president is telling us -- he told me last week that he can’t approve General McChrystal’s request until we get the strategy right. Why the second thoughts on the strategy?

GATES: I don’t think there are second thoughts so much as, you know, when he made his decisions at the end of March, he also announced that he would -- we would be reviewing the policy and the strategy after the elections...

STEPHANOPOULOS: But he said the tool was in the tactics, not the strategy.

GATES: Well, I -- I think that he -- he clearly felt that we would have to reassess where we are after the election. Now, in addition to having a flawed election in Afghanistan, we now have General McChrystal’s assessment.

When the president made his comments at -- at the end of March, his decisions, obviously, General McChrystal was not in place. We now have his assessment. He has found the situation on the ground in Afghanistan worse than he had -- than he anticipated.

And so I think what the president is now saying is, in light of the election, in light of McChrystal’s more concerning assessment of the situation on the ground, have we got the strategy right, were the decisions in -- that he made at the end of March the right ones? Do we need to make some adjustments in light of what we’ve found?

And once we’ve decided whether or not to make adjustments in the strategy, then we will consider the additional resources.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But did -- but didn’t General McChrystal take these problems of the election into account? He didn’t even deliver his report until August 30th, which was after the elections. Dennis Blair, the head of national intelligence, said back in February or March that we could foresee that there would be problems with this election.

GATES: Well, I think -- I think that the potential magnitude of the problems in the election really didn’t become apparent until the vote count began in early September. So -- so I think it was really after he submitted his -- his assessment.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So now we have a real dilemma. Does that mean that the United States is re-thinking whether it can even -- whether it can bolster President Karzai’s government, whether we have to give up on it?

GATES: Well, I -- you know, the Afghan people have gone to the polls, and we have the two election commissions -- one internal, one international -- that could still come to conclusions, even if they throw out some fraudulent ballots or a number of fraudulent ballots, that there was a clear winner.

The key is whether the Afghans believe that their government has legitimacy. And everything that I’ve seen in the intelligence and elsewhere indicates that remains the case.

STEPHANOPOULOS: It does seem, though, that you’re caught in a dilemma right now. You’ve got your commanding general on the ground who’s given you this report. He’s said that troops -- more troops are necessary or you risk failure.

That report has been endorsed by the head of Central Command, David Petraeus. Admiral Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, went to Congress and said we probably need more troops.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet the president is saying that we need to think about the strategy right now. And it really creates the impression of a rift between the civilian leadership, you, as secretary of Defense, the president, and the uniformed military.

GATES: I don’t think that’s the case at all. I talked with -- I had an extensive conversation on the telephone with both General McChrystal and General Petraeus on -- on Wednesday. General McChrystal was very explicit in saying that he thinks this assessment, this review that’s going on right now is exactly the right thing to do. He obviously doesn’t want it to be open-ended or be a protracted kind of thing...

STEPHANOPOULOS: How long will it take?

GATES: Well, I -- you know, I -- it’s not going to take -- I think it -- it’s a matter of a few weeks. And people should remember that the debate within the Bush administration on the surge lasted three months, from October to December 2006.

So I think it’s important to make sure we’re confident that we have the right strategy in place, and then we can make the decisions on additional forces.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yet the clock really does seem to be ticking, again, to go back to General McChrystal’s report. He says that if we don’t turn the tide in the next 12 months, we risk failure. So every week that goes by puts the soldiers who are on the ground at risk, doesn’t it?

GATES: But having the -- having the wrong strategy would put even more soldiers at risk. So I think it’s important to get the strategy right and then we can make the resources decision.

As I say, I don’t expect this to be protracted process. The reality is that, even if the president did decide to approve additional combat forces going into Afghanistan, the first forces couldn’t arrive until January.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what are the options right now? You have said in the past that you didn’t believe what some people are recommending -- stepping up drone attacks, stepping up missile attacks, using special forces -- you don’t believe or haven’t believed in the past that that’s sufficient to contain the Taliban.

GATES: I think that most people who -- the people that I’ve talked to in the Pentagon who are the experts on counterterrorism essentially say that counterterrorism is only possible if you have the kind of intelligence that allows you to target the terrorists. And the only way you get that intelligence is by being on the ground, getting information from people like the Afghans or, in the case of Iraq, the Iraqis.

And so you can’t do this from -- from a distance or remotely, in the view of virtually all of the experts that I’ve talked to.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So if that -- if that’s not going to work, and then you have General McChrystal who said in his report that you need a full-blown counterinsurgency campaign, counterinsurgency is the answer, that certainly seems to be endorsed by General Petraeus. Is there a middle ground between those two poles?

GATES: Well, I think -- I think people are -- are, frankly, so focused on -- on the comment that -- in General McChrystal’s report about additional resources that they’re neglecting to look at the rest of what’s in his report and that -- where he talks very explicitly about the fact that -- that a preoccupation with the resources or with additional forces, if you don’t have the strategy right, is a mistake.

And -- and he, as I say, he understands this process that’s underway. But -- but what he talks about in most of that assessment is not resources, but a different way of using U.S. forces and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

It talks about accelerating the growth of the Afghan national security forces. It spends a lot of time talking about how we stay on side with the Afghan people. This is mostly what McChrystal’s assessment is about.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But it’s a resource-intensive strategy, isn’t it? He says that the troops have to probably be more lightly armed and engage more with the population. And it’s hard to ignore that stark conclusion: Success is not ensured by additional forces alone, as you point out, but continued under-resourcing will likely cause failure. Failure.

GATES: Well, that’s what we’re discussing. And how do we avoid that?

STEPHANOPOULOS: And, as you said, you hope to have this done in a few weeks and you want to avoid failure, as well, but the president has not made any -- any decision at all on resources? Has he -- has he ruled it out?

GATES: No, I haven’t even given him General McChrystal’s request for resources. I have the -- I -- I’m receiving the -- the report. I’m going to sit on it until I think -- or the president thinks -- it’s appropriate to bring that into the discussion of the national security principles.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s what -- General McChrystal says we have to have more troops to avoid failure. Where we’ve had a lack of clarity is on what success means in Afghanistan. You pointed out at the beginning of this year what it was, and he said we’re not -- we shouldn’t expect a Valhalla in Afghanistan.

The president’s special envoy, Richard Holbrooke, was asked for his definition of success last month, and here’s what he said.


HOLBROOKE: I would say this about defining success in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the simplest sense, the Supreme Court test for another issue, we’ll know it when we see it.


STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that good enough?

GATES: Well, I think -- I think we know it when we see it, and we see it in Iraq. I think that success in Afghanistan looks a great deal like success in Iraq, in this respect, that the Afghan national security forces increasingly take the lead in protecting their own territory and going after the insurgents and protecting their own people. We withdraw to an over-watch situation and then we withdraw altogether.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Which first required a surge in Iraq.

GATES: It did require the surge. And that’s -- the issue that we will be looking at over the next several weeks -- the next couple of weeks or so -- is, do we have the right strategy?

And that includes the question of -- of, is the -- is McChrystal’s approach, in the view of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Central Command commander, the right approach? And if so, then what -- what would be the additional resources required?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me turn to Iran. The president has put Iran on notice that they’re going to have to allow inspectors into this secret site which U.S. intelligence discovered for enriching uranium. President Ahmadinejad says that President Obama is mistaken and the United States owes Iran an apology. Is Iran going to get one?

GATES: Not a chance.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what happens next? The president has said that this site is not configured for peaceful purposes. Now, the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate concluded -- of the U.S. government -- concluded that Iran had stopped its active nuclear weapons program in 2003. Does the president’s conclusion -- that this site is not configured for peaceful purposes -- mean that that intelligence estimate is no longer operative?

GATES: No, not necessarily. But what it does mean is that they had a covert site. They did not declare it. They didn’t -- if -- if this were a peaceful nuclear program, why didn’t they announce this site when they began to construct it? Why didn’t they allow IAEA inspectors in from the very beginning?

This -- this is part of a pattern of deception and lies on the part of the Iranians from the very beginning with respect to their nuclear program. So it’s no wonder that world leaders think that they have ulterior motives, that they have a plan to go forward with nuclear weapons. Otherwise, why would they do all this in such a deceptive manner?

STEPHANOPOULOS: U.S. intelligence had been tracking this site for quite some time before President Obama made it public. Is this the only secret site that we know of?

GATES: Well, I’m not going to -- I’m not going to get into that. I would just say that we’re watching very closely.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Does the United States government believe that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program?

GATES: I think that -- my personal opinion is that the Iranians have the intention of having nuclear weapons. I think the question of whether they have made a formal decision to -- to move toward the development of nuclear weapons is -- is in doubt.

STEPHANOPOULOS: The U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency said a couple of weeks ago that Iran is closer to what he called “breakout” capacity on developing a nuclear weapon. What does that mean exactly? And how much time -- if they do, indeed, have the intent -- how much time do we have before Iran has a nuclear weapons capacity?

GATES: Well, I think “breakout” in the -- in the ambassador’s terms means they have enriched enough uranium to a relatively low level that if they have another facility where they could enrich it more highly, that they have a -- they have enriched enough at a low level that they could, in essence, throw out all the IAEA inspectors, change the configuration of the -- of the cascades and the enrichment capability, and enrich it to a level where they could use it -- where they could make it into weapons-grade uranium.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And you say you personally have no doubt that they want weapons. Can that weapons program be stopped with sanctions?

GATES: I think that what is critical is persuading the Iranians that -- or leading them to the conclusion that their security will be diminished by trying to get nuclear weapons, rather than enhanced.

And I think that, because of the election, we see fissures in Iran that we have not seen before, not in the 30 years since the revolution. And I think that severe sanctions, if the Iranian -- that, first of all, we -- we have created a problem for the Iranians with this disclosure.

And so the first step is the meeting on October 1st with the 5+1 powers, with the Iranians, to see if they will begin to change their policy in a way that is satisfactory to -- to the great powers.

And then, if that doesn’t work, then I think you begin to move in the direction of severe sanctions. And their economic problems are difficult enough that -- that I think that severe sanctions would have the potential of -- of bringing them to change their -- their policies.

I think -- you asked me, how long do I think we have? I would say somewhere between one to three years.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me turn, finally, to Guantanamo. We have just a couple of minutes left. A major story in The Washington Post suggesting that the president’s deadline of January 22nd for closing Guantanamo will not be met, and White House officials tell me that at least some prisoners will still be in Guantanamo on January 22nd and beyond. How big a setback is that? And how long will it take to finally close Guantanamo?

GATES: When the president-elect met with his new national security team in Chicago on December 7th...


GATES: ... last year, this issue was discussed, about closing Guantanamo and executive orders to do that and so on. And the question was, should we set a deadline? Should we pin ourselves down?

I actually was one of those who said we should, because I know enough from being around this town that, if you don’t put a deadline on something, you’ll never move the bureaucracy. But I also said, and then if we find we can’t get it done by that time but we have a good plan, then you’re in a position to say, “It’s going to take us a little longer, but we are moving in the direction of implementing the policy that the president set.” And I think that’s the position that...

STEPHANOPOULOS: That’s where we are. So the deadline of January 22nd will not be met?

GATES: It’s going to be tough.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And -- and how many prisoners will be there on January 22nd, do you know?

GATES: I don’t know the answer to that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But, as you said, it’s going to be tough and likely will not be met?

GATES: We’ll see.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One -- one other deadline question. When you were working for President Bush, you used to keep a countdown clock on your desk, counting down the number of days you had left to serve. Is that clock still there?

GATES: No, I threw the clock out. It was obviously useless.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you’re in for the long haul?

GATES: We’ll see. The president-elect and I, when we first discussed this, agreed to leave it open.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Secretary Gates, thank you very much for your time today.

GATES: Thanks a lot.

Transcript: The Latest Bin Laden Statement (September 2009)

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Provided by Juan Cole from the US Government's Open Source Center:

bin ladenPraise be to God, Who created people to worship Him, ordered them to be just, and permitted the wronged to mete out fair punishment to the wrongdoer.

American people: This address to you is a reminder of the causes of 11 (September) and the wars and consequences that followed and the way to settle it once and for all. I mention in particular the families of those who were hurt in these events and who have recently called for opening an investigation to know its causes. This is a first and important step in the right direction among many other steps that have deliberately gone in the wrong direction over eight barren years that you have experienced.

The entire American people should follow suit, as the delay in knowing those reasons has cost you a lot without any noteworthy benefit.

If the White House administration, which is one of the two parties to the dispute, has made it clear to you in the past years that war was necessary to maintain your security, then wise persons should be eager to listen to the two parties to the dispute to know the truth, so listen to what I am going to say.

At the beginning, I say that we have made it clear and stated so many times for over two decades that the cause of the quarrel with you is your support for your Israeli allies, who have occupied our land, Palestine. This position of yours, along with some other grievances, is what prompted us to carry out the 11 September events. Had you known the magnitude of our suffering as a result of the injustice of the Jews against us, with the support of your administrations for them, you would have known that both our nations are victims of the policies of the White House, which is in fact a hostage in the hands of pressure groups, especially major corporations and the Israeli lobby.

One of the best persons to explain to you the causes of the events of the 11th is one of your citizens, a former veteran CIA agent, whose conscience awoke in his eighth decade and decided to tell the truth despite the threats, and to explain to you the message of the 11th. So he carried out some activities for this purpose in particular, including his book Apology of a Hired Assassin.

As for explaining the suffering of our people in Palestine, Obama has recently acknowledged in his speech from Cairo the suffering of our kinfolk there, who are living under occupation and siege. Things will become clearer if you read what your former president, Carter, wrote about the racism of the Israelis against our kinfolk in Palestine, and also if you listened to his statement weeks ago during his visit to the destroyed and besieged Gaza Strip. He said in that statement that the people of Gaza are treated more as animals than human beings. For us God suffices, and He is the best disposer of affairs.

We should have a lengthy pause at this point. Any person with an iota of mercy in his heart cannot but sympathize with those oppressed elderly, women, and children living under the deadly siege. Above that, the Zionists pound them with US-made incendiary phosphorous bombs. Life there is tragic beyond limits, to the point that children die b etween the arms of their parents and doctors due to the lack of food and medicine and the power outages. It is indeed a disgrace for world politicians who are content with that, and their loyalists, who are behaving as such with prior knowledge and premeditation, and under the influence of the Israeli lobby in America. The details of that are explained by two of your fellow citizens. They are John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in their book The Israel Lobby in the United States.

After reading the suggested books, you will know the truth and you will be severely shocked at the magnitude of deception that has been practiced against you. You will also know that those who make statements from inside the White House today and claim that your wars against us are necessary for your security are in fact working along the same line of Cheney and Bush, and propagating the former policies of intimidation to market the interests of the relevant major corporations, at the expense of your blood and economy. Those in fact are the ones who are imposing wars on you, not the mujahidin. We are just defending our right to liberate our land.

If you thoroughly consider your situation, you will know that the White House is occupied by pressure groups. You should have made efforts to liberate it rather than fight to liberate Iraq, as Bush claimed. The White House leader, under such circumstances, and regardless of who he is, is like a train driver who cannot but travel on the railways designed by these pressure groups. Otherwise, his way would be blocked and he would fear that his destiny would be like that of former President Kennedy and his brother.

In a nutshell, it is time to free yourselves from fear and intellectual terrorism being practiced against you by the neoconservatives and the Israeli lobby. You should put the file of your alliance with the Israelis on the table of discussion. You should ask yourselves the following question so that you can determine your position: Do you like the Israelis' security, sons, and economy more than your security, blood, sons, money, jobs, houses, economy, and reputation? If you choose your security and stopping the wars -- and this has been shown by opinion polls -- then this requires that you act to stop those who are tampering with our security on your end. We are prepared to respond to this option on sound and fair foundations that have been mentioned before.

Here is an important point that we should pay attention to with regard to war and stopping it. When Bush assumed power and appointed a defense secretary [Donald Rumsfeld] who had made the biggest contribution to killing more than two million persecuted villagers in Vietnam, sane people predicted that Bush was preparing for new massacres in his era. This was what took place in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Obama assumed power and kept the men of Cheney and Bush -- namely, the senior officials in the Defense Department, like Gates, Mullen, and Petraeus -- sane people knew that Obama is a weak person who will not be able to stop the war as he had promised and that he would procrastinate as much as possible. If he were to decide, then he would hand over command to the generals who oppose this aimless war, like the former commander of troops in Iraq, General Sanchez, and the commander of the Central Command who was forced by Bush to resign shortly before leaving the White House due to his opposition to the war. He appointed instead of him a person who would escalate the war. Under the cover of his readiness to cooperate with the Republicans, Obama made the biggest trick as he kept the most important and most dangerous secretary from Cheney's men to continue the war. The days will show you that you have changed only faces in the White House. The bitter truth is that the neoconservatives are still a heavy burden on you.

Once again, if you stop the war, then that is fine. If you choose not to stop the war, then we have no other option but to continue the war of attrition against you on all possible axes, just as we did with the Soviet Union for 10 years until it disintegrated, with the grace of God. Continue the war for as long as you wish. You are fighting a desperate, losing war that is in favor of others. There seems to be no end in sight for this war.

Russian generals, who learned lessons from the battles in Afghanistan, had anticipated the result of the war before its start, but you do not like those who give you advice. This is a losing war, God willing, as it is funded by money that is borrowed based on exorbitant usury and is fought by soldiers whose morale is down and who commit suicide on a daily basis to escape from this war.

"This war was prescribed to you by two doctors, Cheney and Bush, as a cure for the 11 September events. However, the bitterness and losses caused by this war are worse than the bitterness of the events themselves. The accumulated debts incurred as a result of this war have almost done away with the US economy as a whole. It has been said that disease could be less evil than some medicines.

Praise be to God, we are carrying our weapon on our shoulders and have been fighting the two poles of evil in the East and the West for 30 years. Throughout this period, we have not seen any cases of suicide among us despite the international pursuit against us. We praise God for this. This proves the soundness of our belief and the justice of our cause. God willing, we will continue our way to liberate our land. Our weapon is patience. We seek victory from God. We will not give up the Al-Aqsa Mosque. We hold on to Palestine more than we hold on to our souls. Continue the war as long as you wish, we will never bargain over it (Palestine).

"Endless war will not tire me
For I am now fully grown and strong
For this, my mother begot me (lines of poetry)
Peace be upon those who follow guidance.

Video and Transcript: Gates-Mullen Briefing on Afghanistan (4 September)

On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, held a press briefing to discuss developments in Afghanistan. The appearance came days after the submission of a review by General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, to President Obama recommending American strategy.

We'll have a full analysis tomorrow on this, but here's the key point, beyond the spin and bluster about a "new" approach to "protect the Afghan people". While Gates and Mullen would not comment on the troop increase in McChrystal's review, there will now be a process of several weeks in which the Administration will strike a serious pose about the build-up, possibly even spinning against the military to assert its authority and maintain some limits, before a "compromise" of another 20,000 to 25,000 US troops is authorised. That will bring the total of American forces, when you add in the "private" contractors and security units to about 150,000, more than the Soviets had in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Meanwhile this morning, the US-NATO strategy of protection killed up to 90 Afghans when jet bombers struck two hijacked fuel tankers.

SEC. GATES: Good afternoon. I want to start today with an update on where we stand with General McChrystal's assessment on Afghanistan, and then turn things over to Admiral Mullen for his perspective.

First, some context. Soon after taking office, President Obama approved the deployment of some 21,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan to help cope with the anticipated Taliban spring offensive and to provide additional security for the Afghan elections last month. Our allies and partners also sent significant additional troops to provide for election security.

In late March, the president announced a comprehensive new civil, military and diplomatic strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, with the goal of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda in order to prevent them from launching another major attack against our country.

A new military commander, General McChrystal, was appointed to implement the military component of the new strategy. When General McChrystal took command in June, I asked him to report back to me in about 60 days with his assessment of the security situation and his thinking on the implementation of the president's new strategy.

I received that report two days ago and informally forwarded a copy to the president for an initial read.

I've asked General Petraeus, the commander of Central Command, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the chairman to provide me with their evaluation of the assessment and the situation in Afghanistan, and will send their views plus my own thoughts to the president early next week. I expect that any request for additional resources would follow after this process and be similarly discussed by the president's national-security team.

All of this is being done as part of a systematic, deliberative process designed to make sure the president receives the best military information and advice on the way ahead in Afghanistan. As I said earlier, what prompted my request for this assessment was the arrival of a new commander in Afghanistan, not any new information or perceived change in the situation on the ground. My request and General McChrystal's response both are intended to help us effectively implement the president's March strategy, not launch a new one.


ADM. MULLEN: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I would just add a couple of thoughts. First, on process, as the secretary indicated, he's asked the chiefs and myself to review General McChrystal's initial assessment and provide our thoughts, our advice. The chiefs and I have already met twice in the tank this week to discuss it, and we're planning at least one more session later on. My intention is to wrap up our review by Friday.

Our job -- and it's one we take very seriously -- is to provide the secretary and the president our best military advice. And we're going to do that with a clear eye not only on the needs in Afghanistan but also the needs of the force in general and on our other security commitments around the globe.

Second, it's clear to me that General McChrystal has done his job as well, laying out for his chain of command the situation on the ground, as he sees it, and offering in frank and candid terms how he believes his forces can best accomplish the mission the president has assigned to him.

And that is what this whole thing is about: the mission assigned, the strategy we've been tasked to implement. There has been enormous focus on troop numbers and timelines lately, lots of conjecture, lots of speculation.

I understand the interest in those things, and it's legitimate. Those numbers represent real units, real people and real families. But the troop piece of this is just that. It's a piece, critical, but it's not total.

What's more important than the numbers of troops he may or may not ask for is how he intends to use them. It should come as no surprise to anyone that he intends to use those forces under his command to protect the Afghan people, to give them the security they need to reject the influence the Taliban seeks.

Now, you've heard me talk for much of the last two years about Afghanistan. You know how much I remain concerned about the situation there. There is a sense of urgency. Time is not on our side.

I believe we understand that. And I believe we're going to regain the initiative, because we have a strategy. We have a new approach in implementing that strategy. And we have leaders on the ground who know the nature of the fight they are in, leaders who know that the other people and the other families who matter just as much, in this fight, are the Afghans themselves.

Our mission is to defeat al Qaeda and to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven again. We cannot accomplish that alone. We'll need help from other agencies and other countries. But we will also need the support of the local population.

So in my view, the numbers that count most are the number of Afghans we protect. As one villager told a visiting U.S. lawmaker recently, security is the mother of all progress.


Q Thanks. A question for both of you. New polls show that public support for the war in Afghanistan is eroding. They're coming just as you prepare to go to Congress to ask for funding to fulfill General McChrystal's anticipated resource request. How concerned are you that the fading support will make it harder for those requests to be fulfilled, and how concerned are you both about this idea, that the war is slipping through the administration's fingers, is taking hold with Americans?

SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I don't believe that the war is slipping through the administration's fingers. And I think it's important -- first of all, the nation has been at war for eight years. The fact that Americans would be tired of having their sons and daughters at risk and in battle is not surprising.

I think what is important is for us to be able to show, over the months to come, that the president's strategy is succeeding. And that is what General McChrystal is putting in front of us, is how best we can, at least from the military's standpoint, ensure that we can show signs of progress along those lines.

But I think it is also -- there is always a difference between the perspective in terms of timing in this country, and certainly in this city, and what's going on in the country. And I think what's important to remember is, the president's decisions were only made at the -- on this strategy were only made at the very end of March.

Our new commander appeared on the scene in June. We still do not have all of the forces the president has authorized in Afghanistan yet, and we still do not have all the civilian surge that the president has authorized and insisted upon in Afghanistan yet.

So we are only now beginning to be in a position to have the assets in place that -- and the strategy or the military approach in place to begin to implement the strategy. And this is going to take some time.

By the same time (sic), no one is more aware than General McChrystal and certainly the two of us that there is a limited time for us to show that this approach is working, and certainly for the secretary of State and the president as well, because there is this broader element of the strategy that goes beyond the military.

But I would just say we are mindful of that. We understand the concerns on the part of many Americans in this area, and -- but we think that we now have the resources and the right approach to begin making some headway in turning around a situation that, as many have indicated, has been deteriorating.

Q And the Chairman doesn't --

SEC. GATES: I'm sorry. Go --

ADM. MULLEN: The only thing I'd add to that is, this has been a mission that has not been well-resourced. It's been under-resourced almost since its inception, certainly in recent years. And it has -- and part of why it has gotten more serious and has deteriorated has been directly tied to that. President Obama has approved the troops, approved the civilians that, as the secretary indicated, are literally in many cases just arriving on scene.

I talked about a sense of urgency, and I do believe we have to start to turn this thing around from a security standpoint over the next 12 to 18 months.

I think the strategy's right. I -- we know how to do this. We've got a combat-hardened force that is terrific in counterinsurgency. And to listen to General McChrystal, he believes it's achievable, and I think we can succeed.

That said, it's complex. It's tough. We're losing people, as everybody knows. And yet that's the mission that the president has given us in the military, and it's the one that we are very fixed on carrying out.

Read rest of transcript...