September 27th, 2009
09:19 AM ET
13 years ago

Gates: Any new troops to Afghanistan wouldn't 'flow' til early 2010

WASHINGTON (CNN) – The Afghanistan conflict has proven more difficult than anticipated, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in echoing President Barack Obama’s deliberative approach on whether to send more troops.

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."

Filed under: Afghanistan • Popular Posts • Robert Gates • State of the Union
soundoff (131 Responses)
  1. Mike, Syracuse, NY

    It had been the military policy to be able to fight two simultaneous regional conflicts at once. Under Clinton the military was reduced by 40-45% making it impossible to do two things at once. We are seeing the result now of Clinton's foolishness. Obama has already started cutting military programs. Soon we'll be unable to do one thing at once. Liberals are unfit to be Commander-in-Chief.

    September 27, 2009 10:12 am at 10:12 am |

    Laughable of you Mike in Syracuse NY. Did you ever stop to think if Bush did not invade Iraq, and kept our troops money and resources in Afghanistan where the true enemies are we migh not be in this mess with Afghanistan? But go right ahead blame President Clinton for Bushes failure in Iraq and Afghanistan you Right wingers are laughable.

    September 27, 2009 10:21 am at 10:21 am |
  3. David Cook

    You don't have to worry about fighting the Taliban in destroying us. The record deficit behind a fabricated war in Iraq has done more damage to the life of an average American (homelessness, unemployment) than any of these foreign criminals will be able to do.

    Wake up and smell the roses: 9/11 was a walk in the park compared to all the problems the country is having now and will have in the forseeable future.

    I am hope we never have a neo-con in office during my and my children's generation.

    September 27, 2009 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  4. proud army navy mom

    gen mchristal is a tool for Rumsfeld and cheney.

    He is responsible for the cover up murder of Pat TIllman.

    I don't trust him because he is a mole.

    September 27, 2009 10:35 am at 10:35 am |
  5. JimGPa.

    Gotta love this attack on liberals...This from someone who conveniently forgot we lost thousands of lives and trillions of dollars in a war in Iraq which was based on a lie. A war we didn't need to fight. Yea right, we need more conservative presidents so we can waste thousands of more lives for nothing. These rightwingnuts make me puke!

    September 27, 2009 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  6. sophie

    My son is being deployed to Afghanistan from Vermont Guards. I pray that he will be safely returned, but am fearful that politics have gotten in the way of rational reasoning.

    September 27, 2009 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  7. Jose

    Under the republican leadership that got us into Afghanistan, we never accomplished what we went there to do – that was capture Bin Laudin. Somehow under the republican led, oil and contract business leadership, we lost site of trying to capture Bin Laudin and ended up wasting many lives and money. Republicans are unfit to be Commander-In-Chief but they sure know how to screw the American Public.

    September 27, 2009 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  8. Nate S

    Mike from NY – how has the last 8 years gone with fighting two wars at once – and losing those wars because of a Republican hell-bent on retaliation for threats against his father? How's that gone for you? My problem with idiots such as yourself is that you think it's all so cut and dried. According to your logic, Russian's were all a bunch of Liberals...but didn't they help win World War II? As wasn't the Communist Vietnam that defeated the US and caused Richard Nixon (a Republican) to have to withdraw? Get you head out of the sand. Unless a war is founded on a good strategy nothing is worth fighting.

    September 27, 2009 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  9. frank

    Dear Mike from Syracuse, who is stopping you or anyone in this country from signing up in the military today? They are begging for people get up and go do it. The Defense Budget is 4 times larger than it was in 1992 so who is cutting what?

    I am a registared blank and could careless about the parties Stop the party crap and start caring about the country.

    September 27, 2009 10:38 am at 10:38 am |
  10. The Progressive

    I think we need to get out. Use the billions we're wasting in Iraq and Afghanistan on top notch intelligence to monitor the activities of these people. Once we get a sense that they're cooking something against us, we move in with MOABs and Daisy cutters.

    September 27, 2009 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  11. Roy

    Mike, military was more severely cut down during GWB's years than Clinton...and it continues from measures that he put in place. Rumsfeld had a lot to do with that, as evidenced by his small fighting force policy that got us bogged down in Iraq because we were shorthanded going in there.

    September 27, 2009 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  12. JDonald

    So when do we stop and ask where the money will come from for us to continue policing the world? If sending tens of thousands more troops to Afghanistan will cost another X billiion dollars of tax payers' money that is already overdrawn (for several more years), doesn't eventual financial bankruptcy for the USA also mean defeat? Do we want an immediate exit from the costly battles or do we want a slow bleed to financila ruin?

    September 27, 2009 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  13. Dylan

    "Liberals are unfit to be Commander-in-Chief"? Yeah, and invading Iraq because a bunch of Saudi's attacked the United States was a good idea? Conservatives certainly haven't cornered the market on good thinking.

    September 27, 2009 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  14. Eric, Houston, TX

    Mike, you are way off base. We could easily wipe anyone off the planet with our military. It's just that it's not the right thing to do. If you had any grasp of history you would realize that an army, no matter how well prepared or large, is not the key to defeating terrorism. Terrorism is tactic and way of thinking, not a tangible thing that you can beat with a war.

    September 27, 2009 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  15. RickyL

    Yeah!! Wouldn't it be sweet to be able to fight as many wars as we want for as long as we want.

    The truth is....Conservatives are unfit for anything else!!

    September 27, 2009 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  16. Guy

    Yeah, it is obviously the fault of the Clinton and other democrats...!!

    By the way, Republicans had 8 years to improve the issues in both countries. What are the result besides more troops killed?
    Same arguments, no new ideas beside blaming the other guy...
    R. Gates has the guts to challenge the system.
    – Cut the money to the crooks such as Karzai and the others and find ways to really improve the life of the people
    – Get the EU to do their part of the job if they want to be a force
    – Give the army the tools to win
    – Develop and communicate a strategy, measurement tools and do it.

    Military are not Rep or Dem's.

    September 27, 2009 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  17. Ty

    We should have withdrew from Afghanistan a long time ago. The Afghan people can't help themselves. They don't want to improve their quality of life. We can't force them to do something they don't want to.

    We will never strengthen the Afghan economy enough to support its own government. Right now we are spending millions or maybe even billions of TAXPAYER dollars setting up the Afghan National Army. As soon as we stop monetarily supporting the ANA it will cease to be functional. The government surely doesn't have the money to support infrastructure. Where is the Afghan money going to get funds from if they don't tax the citizens. You can't tax the citizen's if they don't have any money.

    I'm in Afghanistan right now mentoring Afghan soldiers. All of you sitting on your couch in the US right now have no idea how big of a waste of lives, resources and money this war is.

    September 27, 2009 10:44 am at 10:44 am |
  18. Franklin

    More Obama cover.

    Exactly how do Gates' comments regarding the "holding pattern" under the Bush administration explain the WORSE situation we have now in Afghanistan.

    It doesn't make sense. War in Afghanistan was prior to War in Iraq. Going on 8 years. Why only now–under new Obama strategy, mind you–has it deteriorated to the point of increased casualties and possible defeat?

    September 27, 2009 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  19. Sid

    Mike, what would really be interesting about your comment is if you used facts to support your claim. Statements like yours are unhelpful and do nothing to solve problems. The only figures you do offer are quite the exaggeration. Probably should do some research before making ridiculous claims

    September 27, 2009 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  20. Michael J. Warner, MMCS(SS) U.S.N. ret.

    The downsizing of the miltary started with George the 1st after the fall of the Soviet Union. I was active duty at the time (1974 to 2000.) Coke snorting, wiskey drinking, malingering, silver spooned conservatives are the ones unfit to serve as Commander-in-Chief.

    September 27, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  21. Take The Time & Get It Right

    The president should take his time and get the strategy right for troop levels in Afghanistan and anyone who try to push the issue is not thinking about the troops but more about politics. Notice Republicans are calling for more troops without thinking about the strain of the military; if you listen to conservative radio the president is weak because he hasn't committed to more troops. And the liberals question the reason we are in the war in the first place. This is all confusing if you're listening to this day after day. The president should take his time and forget about the noise to get to the right decision.

    September 27, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  22. MyTwoCents50

    Jimmy Carter was weak on Iran and terrorism and they have done nothing but get stronger since. George Bush was the only president since then to fight back. Clinton had Bin Laden handed to him on a silver platter and he dropped the ball because he was too busy making white stains on dresses. Now we have Obama who is more interested in taking over the economy (healthcare, banks, wall street, car companies, etc). You get what you vote for.

    September 27, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  23. doight

    Americans you don't want to lose face and make some old Republicans look foolish. You have to keep sending your young men and women into Afganistan so they can be blown up. When the old Republicans die off then you can leave Afganistan. Of course by then you may have lost several thousand more troops to "operation save face". Along with bankrupting your nation for 20 years.

    Interesting observation from Canada:"I can't tell the difference between Talibans and Republicans!" They both, are religious zealots, treat women as lesser human beings, are racist, and would destroy their country for their cause.

    September 27, 2009 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  24. Mike, New Hampshire

    Mike, if you are only getting your information from right-leaning sources, then I can definitely understand your point. However, cutting military funding in order to better fund domestic programs does not necessarily translate into a weaker, less agile military. As in most government-funded programs, the military has waste; Obama is trying to cut waste out of all of these programs in an effort to lessen our outrageously large deficit; to say that "Liberals are unfit to be Commander-in-Chief" is a statement that is just not realistic, but misinformed "reactionistic."

    September 27, 2009 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  25. A.P.

    Mike – You are selectively omitting history that negates your point. Clinton may have reduced the size of the military, but it was Don Rumsfeld under Bush who insisted that a lean force with small footprint would be successful in both Afghanistan and Iraq. It was Rumsfeld who refused to increase the size of the military while attempting to implement that failed strategy. And it was Rumsfeld who pulled forces out of Afghanistan in order to prepare for the invasion of Iraq (incidentally, something that easily could have waited another month or two with no difference in outcome), allowing Al Qaeda and the Taliban to retreat into Pakistan. Further, what programs has Obama cut? The only military programs to be cut under Obama are those that the Pentagon itself has insisted are a waste of resources (fighter planes to fight a non-existent Soviet Union, etc.). John McCain and other proponents of a strong military have stood by Obama on every one of those decisions. In the end, I question why this has to be a partisan issue. A debate about the best next steps in Afghanistan will be more useful than a debate about which party is better suited to be in command (since ultimately the answer is, it all depends on the individuals)

    September 27, 2009 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
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