In an interview broadcast Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union, Gates said the focus on Iraq by the previous administration of President George W. Bush meant the operation in Afghanistan has been limited.
“The reality is, we were fighting a holding action,” Gates said of situation under Bush, whom he also served as defense secretary.
“We were very deeply engaged in Iraq,” Gates said, later adding: “We were too stretched to do more. And I think we did not have the kind of comprehensive strategy that … we have now.”
Setting an exit strategy for Afghanistan would be a mistake, but the United States also will closely monitor developments to ensure its strategy is achieving desired results, Gates said.
Obama is under increasing pressure from congressional Republicans who favor sending more troops, as desired by commanding Gen. Stanley McChrystal, while many of the president’s fellow Democrats are expressing resistance.
Gates said McChrystal “found a situation in Afghanistan that is more serious than … we had thought and that he had thought before going out there.”
Asked why the Obama administration has yet to decide on McChrystal’s assessment that more troops will be necessary to defeat insurgents and protect the local population, Gates said it would take more time to properly analyze the situation.
"I think we are in the middle of a review," Gates told CNN Chief National Correspondent John King, adding : “Once we're confident we have the strategy right, then - then we'll address the question of additional resources.”
Gates also noted that any additional combat troops for Afghanistan "really probably could not begin to flow" until January 2010.
He disagreed with setting a clear exit strategy for Afghanistan.
"[T]he notion of - of timelines and exit strategies and so on, frankly, I think would all be a - a strategic mistake," Gates said. "The reality is - failure in Afghanistan would be a huge setback for the United States.
“[The] Taliban and Al Qaeda, as far as they're concerned, defeated one superpower, [the Soviet Union],” he continued. “For them to be seen to defeat a second, I think, would have catastrophic consequences in terms of energizing the extremist movement, Al Qaeda recruitment, operations, fundraising, and so on. I think it would be a huge setback for the United States.”
Gates said the process should be defining a strategy “that we think can be successful, and then to pursue it and pursue it with confidence and resolution." At the same time, Gates suggested that the administration was not moving toward an open-ended, indefinite commitment to having a U.S. military presence in Afghanistan.
"I think that we are being very careful to look at this as we go along," Gates said. "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."
the united states has to have someone to accuse and beat up, it,s all oil ,money and power, the united states wants to control the world, i do not believe iran would have built thier second nucular facility under ground if isreal and the west wasn,t threatening to attack them, after the second world war europe became a little smarter, knowing they have no other options but to back the united states they do it very spareingly, bush tried to cause a confrontation with the soviet union in the breakaway soviet republic but european countries would not get pulled into it, what all these power crazed nations lack is the intelligence of what it does to people, not only have they killed millions if not trillions of innocent civilians in just vietnam,afghanistan,iraq, but look at the soldiers returned from war, they were pumped up with propaganda, oh what authority, what power , you will be going into battle to kill the enemy of your country, they paid the price now they have returned home, heart broken, guilty conscience, sufferring anxiety and depression over have been made crazed by a deciever that sent them to battle ,, did you read one statistic alone before the afghanistan, iraq war there was 790 women soldiers returned liveing on the streets, abandoned husbands and children and now with the returned women soldiers returning from war liveing on the streets is over 13,000 in the united states alone, well ladies and gentlemen i extend to you my sympathey for haveing fallen victim to a deciever, judgement comes for everyone when they pass from this earth, pull yourselves to-gether and pickup the pieces tell the ones that have not gone yet the destruction and dispare and not to go,
The General needs more troops now, yet Comrade Obama is sitting on his hands, surely afraid to upset the anti-war groups that supported his campaign.
The only way the United States can lose this war is if we chose to lose it. If the American people lose their will to win under the influence of the politicians of the far left and their drivelly defeatism, then our soldiers lives will have been in lost in vain. The left wing democrats foster this defeatism and undermine the country's will to win. They need to belly up. Do I need to remind people of some famous Harry Reid quotes like "The war in Iraq is lost....." ?
Get real people! Remember 9/11 and the more than 3,000 people that died. We must see through to complete victory. In fact-we should expand the war, overtly or covertly, into Pakistan, and hunt down and kill every member of Al-Qaida and its support networks. Lets face it, this war is against Islamic Radicalist Terrorism in whatever form.
Brother Gates forgets to mention the defeat of the first super power (Russia) in Afganistan was with the aid of another (us). Both wars are being prosecuted like a juvenile school yard dust up. Our egos are so involved with "set backs" and face saving, no president can take a detached overarching view and say, "you know folks, this is a mess we created and one we needn't continue" but that would make everyone howl about American being a paper tiger. When will the American electorate grow up? With over 400 foreign military bases and that many more on our own soil, we are becoming another self-destructing over-reaching empire on moral thin ice. We've been sucked into the trap and refuse to cut our losses and look for another answer to the question of terrorism.
@Erl in Toronto,
You've made a rather simplistic and overreaching assessment of the American political climate in your statement. The United States an extremely diverse and at once extremely cohesive society that is probably unparalleled in the rest of the world. Although you were criticizing another posting on this site, you generalized (inaccurately) to the entire American population. In this country, we have roughly 30% of the people claiming Democrat and 30% claiming Republican (those numbers fluctuate based on the times, but the trend is the same). That leaves 40% of 300,000,000 people that are not a member of either party at any given time.
Look at our primaries if you need further proof against your claim that we have our opinions given to us. We openly debate, disagree, and argue points from within our own parties based on our own conviction. Although in Canada you may not get wind of those things because it's just too granular and specific to be of interest to the international community (justifiably so), you should understand that we do not walk in lock-step with members of our own party. I am a Republican because of my Conservative ideology (in favor of reducing taxes, limiting social programs to the real needy as a step up, a strong national defense policy, respect for life, and generally having the government stay out of my personal business).
Americans are the most opinionated people I know (and I am one). We value our independence, and that's something both sides of the spectrum agree on. We have our own opinions, and we respect the God-given right (as mentioned in our Constitution) to speak them. It was our founders who used that thing behind their eyes to think of a new way to bring freedom to the people. That's why the Queen of England is not OUR head of state. Hmmm.
For those with short memories, please remember that in order to invade Iraq, we had to show the world that we had won the war in Afganistan. The previous administration made sure we all saw the blue fingers of all those who voted in the new democratic country.
We had the little man behind the curtain pulling levers wildly while telling us to look the other way, and not notice the reality of the situation. Telling us that the new government was corrupt and that we were losing the war in Afganistan would have meant that our focus would have had to turn back to the real enemy hidden in the mountains. They had us click our heels three times and dream of Iraq.
Mike from Syracuse, the strength is not in numbers or in how much we are spendng... as proof, I would point you to the rebels in Afganistan... its in the planning. The previous administration sought to flex its muscles, without fully thinking out the consequences, and now we are being embarrassed by a group of small terrorist cells. This is the same group who almost bankrupt the old Soviet Union, and are bent on doing the same to us.
I for one am relieved to see that the current administration is thinking out the whole plan and coming to terms with reality and focusing on the target. No more "wizard of oz" behind the curtain, just reality. KInd of refreshing.
This; “[The] Taliban and Al Qaeda, as far as they're concerned, defeated one superpower, [the Soviet Union],” he continued. “For them to be seen to defeat a second, I think, would have catastrophic consequences in terms of energizing the extremist movement, Al Qaeda recruitment, operations, fundraising, and so on. I think it would be a huge setback for the United States.” is not 100% correct. I do believe history shows that the al Qaeda that carried out 9/11 nor the Taliban defeated the Soviet Union. They did not appear as they existed on 9/11 until years after the Soviets left.
A second point is that more contries than just the Soviet Union have been defeated by wars in Afghanistan. The British Impire for one was also "defeated" there.
Exit we must, so at some point declare victory and move on keeping al Qaeda in the cross hairs of our Special Ops folks.
I have only two words for Afghanistan: Get Out.
@Jim in Ozark, MO
You might want to pick up a history book. The two war strategy comes from WWII, and the DEMOCRAT President Roosevelt.
Please tell me you're not a teacher.
"I think we are in the middle of a review,"
Translation – "The boss is assessing the situation"
Nice to have a SecDef who's ego is NOT running the whole show.
As for Mike, I don't recall a huge cut to tactical assets, but a continuation of strategic cuts begun under Bush/Reagan as part of the "peace dividend" that we supposedly reaped due to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The Right wants a bigger war, unless Obama announces a bigger war, then it will be a 'distraction' to take criticism away from his massive 'socialist/fascist/communist/atheist' antiamerican social agenda. Just like trying to kill Osama Bin Laden was a 'deliberate distraction' from the Monica Lewinsky farce.
We need to look at Social structures, not just military targets. Afghanistan is a tribal society, always has been, and will be until the Afghan's decide to change of their own accord. Until we learn that our political system is jut not wanted everywhere, we will fail. We cannot build a stable nation where there has never been a stable nation, and where the people really don't want to change.
Gates has it right, we need to fully assess the situation before we do anything. Obama has it right, we need to fully assess the situation before we do anything. We've seen that increasing troops makes things worse, at least in the headlines. We increased troops to secure the election, but widespread fraud by our supposed allies undercut our efforts.
If we have only enemies there, and I put unscrupulous allies in the same category as our enemies, victory is undefinable and the mission must be redefined so that we can accomplish something. right now we have no definable mission, just an amorphous word, . . . victory.
Yes Scott, you are right. It is annoying having a President who explores his options and considers the long term ramifications of a decision. Don't you miss the good old days where decisions were made off of the first instinct and people were fired for disagreeing?
Mike's comment is absurd. The United States entered World War Two in December 1941. By November 1942, the United States was fighting a two-front war (three, if North Atlantic naval operations are included). Beyond that, we were supplying the British, the Soviets, and the Chinese. Mike, are you suggesting that the Bush administration couldn't have regeared the economy for two wars from September 2001 to March 2003? Roosevelt did it in eleven months when the nation's population was 132 million! Bush wanted us 300 million of us to go shopping.
The reality is that George Bush allowed the terrorists to win. 9/11 was a disastrous moment in our history; the years that followed were worse. By throwing a fortune in money and manpower into Iraq, by giving tax cuts to the wealthy and by spending his entire presidency paying attention to only one issue, Mr. Bush allowed the United States to be broken economically and militarily. There was no reason to invade Iraq; there was every reason to put our resources into defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan. Luckily, we now have a President who understands that the success of America relies on more than our military power and who is working diligently to rebuild our country.
G.W. took our eye off the ball in Afghanistan so he could get us into Iraq, which we already had contained. There were no weapons of mass-deception, that was a lie he used so he could impress his father trying to finish what he started. Now Obama hasn't even been there a year, and we are blaming him for the resurgence of Al-Qaeda when they could have been wiped out eight years ago. We need substantial more troops, two groups, one in Pakistan moving north, and one in Afghanistan moving south. Then destroy then in the middle. Keep enough troops to keep law & order, and train a competent police force, and army. Yes there will be civilian casualties, but if the people won't take care of it themselves, and give up the insurgents (because you know they know who they are) then that's why they call it war. We had to fight for our freedom, should they just be allowed to sit in their huts, and let us die fighting for them? Not on my dime.
Bob R got it right.
Hmmmm....the two-war strategy in WWII worked because we had a draft, and the whole country went to war. Part of the calculation with Iraq and Afghanistan was "how can we do this in a way that most Americans won't notice in their daily lives" Now, our troops are there on their own, having to spend too much time babysitting contractors who create more problems than they're worth. Had Bush followed the Powell doctrine (like his Father, and Clinton did), we wouldn't be in this mess in the first place.
If I were Obama, I would NOT listen to the military and their dire warnings. All they know is WAR and I don;t trust them . I feel that they would like to see Obama get mired down into another Viet Nam, because down deep, they don;t view Obama as one of them and would like to see him fail.
Why is it that right wingnuts do not want money spent on Americans in the health care reform, but have no problem with our resources being wasted on defense contractors who have been fined hundreds billions of dollars for illegal activities?
Stop the blame and finger pointing and lets kick butt!
Al Qaeda attack us, not the other way around, now it's time for pay back. It does not matter if it takes a year, 10 years or 100!!! The message must be sent to all radicals that if you attack us, we will fight back until victory. Nothing short of full destruction of those fanatics that kill women, gays, children and old people.
If you accept Al Qaeda or Talibans in the world you accept Nazis and extermination camps.
Stop the politics and get behind our troops; they are our brothers/sisters, uncles/aunts, mothers/fathers, neighbors/friends, Americans!
We now know there are unknowns. Before, we did not know there were unknowns. Now that the unknowns are known, we need to know what it is we don't know. Once we know what it is that we don't know, then we will be able to address it as a known unknown.
Gen. Stanley McChrystal sounds like the generals during Vietnam: Just give us more troops, money and bombs and we will win. What I'd like to see happen is we make it clear that our purpose in Afghanistan is to get Bin Ladin, his top advisors and the Taliban leadership that supports him (mullah Omar or whatever his name is) then get out. We should make this clear to the Afghanistan people that once we have these people we will leave and only help them if they ask. We should also make it clear that if they pull any more stunts like 9-11 we will be back and do it again.
Oh, and you people who insist on calling the president names: you are like theTaliban and Al-Qaeda – lots of inflammatory rhetoric and a tendency to think violently when you don't get your way.
As a Democrat (soon to be former) I'm embarrassed by the defeatist attitude of the Party. I guess the old saying is true "If you're not Liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not Conservative when you're 35, you have no brain." I'm heading over to foxnews. . . Those comments usually make a lot more sense.
A war on terrorism is somewhat akin to a war on clouds: new ones will always spring up when the circumstances allow, making the entire concept ridiculous. Loosing our young soldiers and bankrupting our country for this reason is unacceptable. I'm tired of our own "leaders" threatening us with future potential terror attacks on American soil if we don't keep the war alive. Let's make our own country safe and worry about the rest of the world when we can afford it.
I am getting tired of the brainless right wingnuts calling liberals 'gutless.' We are pretty tough to have lived through the Bush years.
To those who suggest we leave Afghanistan before our enemies are defeated;
Do you think Bin Laden, Al Qaeda and the Taliban will leave us alone? The radical Islamic factions are sworn to destroy those who live as we do in the United States.Consumerism taboo, womens rights pitiful, If you are a guy, you better grow a beard, Ladies, don't you dare talk to a man if your husband isn't present, your daughters will receive no education, the boys are taught to hate non-Islamics. Throw away your blouses, tank tops and shorts and get prepared to wear a burqua. Tough if it's 120 degrees. This is only a small taste.