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. nick

    To understand the context of the current review, read Slings and Stones by Hammes. This is classic Fourth Generation Warfare. Also read McChrryustal's summary very closely.

    Can the American people and politicians handle a 20-30 year war?

    September 27, 2009 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  2. once upon a horse

    boy I guess the far right is in a bit of a pickle on this one. They HATE President Obama but they LOVE war so how are they gonna deal with this one? If he decides to send more troops in are they going to back him up on it? Or will they call it Obama's War and back down unlike the support they gave to President Bush?

    September 27, 2009 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  3. x-rev

    @Dean,,, are your shorts getting stuck up in your behind? Must be hard to sit on the fence all this time and just say everyone is stupid!! What is being said that is stupid? I see comments from all sides, some supporting the actions, some disapproving the actions... seems most all bases are covered... yet you... the only opinion you can give is everyone is wrong? Take the easy road my friend, but don't complain about hemroids.

    September 27, 2009 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  4. GOP

    People can go all day saying war is not the answer but the problem is they do not understand the question.

    Peace has never been achieved by inaction or talking to ones enemy. If you don’t understand that then feel free to read what Neville chamberlain got in return with his appeasement with Hitler!

    How many times in history do you see that appeasement never works. Yes no one wants war but it is the only thing that seems to be able to achieve long term peace.

    September 27, 2009 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  5. A Democrat of 51 years who has finally got smart to their foolishness.

    Let's get our priorities straight here. We sent mulitudes of troops to Iraq where they were not needed in a few short weeks and now it will take nearly two years to send what our troops in Afghanistan need right now at the PRESENT. Something is way off course here. Are we headed for another lost war. Let's list them: Korea, Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq and now Afghanistan. But yet we're supposed to be the strongest nation of power in the world. We have only losers in this country especially at the White House. From a 28 year Army Veteran who went through two of those losing efforts watching my comrades die for nothing.

    September 27, 2009 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  6. Jerry S. in New Jersey

    If "winning" in Afghanistan is defined as clearing the bad guys out of the country, and we do it one area at a time leaving behind in each area enough troops to see that bad guys don't come back, then it is estimated that it would require no less than 400,000 troops to police a country the size of Afghanistan. I don't want to see any of my grandchildren sacrificed to ensure the existence of a corrupt Karzai regime and a thriving opium business. Destroy the opium growing fields and we eliminate the source of funding for the Taliban. Al Qaeda doesn't need Afghanistan as a training site; they already have Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen. Quagmire is an inadequate word to describe what we face in Afghanistan. Let's declare victory there now and pull out our troops.

    September 27, 2009 12:55 pm at 12:55 pm |
  7. Paul in Chicago

    I've got a George Orwell quote for "kg in okiehoma" – "The quickest way of ending a war is to lose it."

    September 27, 2009 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  8. Tom

    This is to Paul: They may have all had the same intel, the bush admin. mainly the neocons. under dick cheney were pushing for a war in Iraq to get rid of sadam. from the time they took office in 2000. This was in Woodwards book. While we were attacked 2001. They used 2001 to expand the war on terror in the direction they want to go and not necessarily to get osb

    September 27, 2009 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  9. GOP

    If more troops are needed and no better option can be used then you have no choice but to send them.

    I don’t believe Obama wants this war to go down as his defeat and he will do everything he can to avoid just that. The problem is can he stand up against Pelosi and her left wing liberal nuts.

    Obama seems to be able to stand up against the American people when it comes to pushing his agenda like healthcare down our throats but to his own party he will fold like a old deck of cards!

    September 27, 2009 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  10. viet vet

    When is someone going to take a stand and speak the truth. Gates: Bush screwed up Afghanistan and Iraq along with much of everything else Bush/Cheney did. Just say it, stop patronizing.
    Our current policy will result in the same outcome as Vietnam. At the moment, the only difference is the lying.

    September 27, 2009 01:01 pm at 1:01 pm |
  11. Tom

    once upon a horse – "If he decides to send more troops in are they going to back him up on it?"

    What part of Republicans calling for him to send more troops is hard for you to understand? Obama promised he would walk into the White House and end the wars in Iraq and Afganistan while Hillary pushed the Reset button on relations with Iran and North Korea. Now he's discovered it's not that easy.

    September 27, 2009 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  12. Tom

    Unfortunately Sean is one hundred percent correct in his assessment That is what is needed to. cut our losses win.

    September 27, 2009 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  13. Dimi

    Wow you people are idiots, this quote pretty much sums it up, this war is a joke its a lie, and its all about the geopolitical location of Afghanistan and its natural gas reserves.

    “[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.”

    That right there shows that the U.S. was supporting "Al Qaeda" during the Soviet times. We call them Al Qaeda but there just Mujahadeen really. There is no Al Qaeda or any of that in Afghanistan you got regular people fighting because they don't want any foriengers in their country telling them what to do. If it was the U.S. I am sure we would fight as well.

    September 27, 2009 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  14. Ancient Desert One

    The issue is getting the people to split with the Taliban. The Afghanis are worried about what happens when we leave. Who will fill the gap. Who will be their leader? So the solution is not about winning, but about empowerment. About values and human dignity. The President is right. We cannot go it alone. Whether the enemy is terrorist violence from thousands of miles away or gang killings in our own communities, we are all responsible for peace, because sooner or later it's not just our neighbor's problem but ours as well.

    September 27, 2009 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  15. Laughing Skeptic

    Until we build the railroads and create a middle class in Afghanistan that is connected to the outside world, the tribalism of Afghanistan will continue to be a festering sore for the entire world. It is time to end their bronze age society that is armed with modern weapons and connect these people to the rest of the world despite the desires of their petty little leaders. I don't understand why 'Nation Building' has become a dirty word. It really is the only way to resolve this situation.

    September 27, 2009 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  16. Elizabeth

    We cannot afford what we cannot afford. The enemies strategy for the Middle East is to bleed us until we run dry. Afganistan is known as an empire destroyer. We need to get out. We need to focus on our problems at home and let the rest of the world do their fair share. America is collapsing and we keep draining oursleves for endeavors that can never be solved. We have our own issues at home that are terrorist namely drug cartels , gangs and rampant greed. Time for America to take a look at herself and deal with her own problems before it is too late. If we had spent the money we spent on wars, on the people we would all have homes that are paid for, cars that are paid for and everyone in this country would have had a free college education. We also could have solved the "oil" problem with hydrogen cars and the infrastructure to support it. We are really the victims of other counties own agendas.

    September 27, 2009 01:38 pm at 1:38 pm |
  17. Chris Howerton

    How about the USA get Russia to give them a hand in Afghanistan – and get rid of the Taliban and AQ once and for all? It would show the cold war is truly over and that civilized society can crush terrorism.

    September 27, 2009 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  18. Kevin

    The one thing that no one seems to be able to define is what constitutes "victory" in Afghanistan. I'm as progressive as they come, but we had no choice but to enter this war, and I'm supportive of "finishing it" in a way that makes this country stronger and the region more stable. Unfortunately, no one seems to know what that really means. I encourage anyone to give a rational, intelligent exlanation of what victory means. I'm very willing to be convinced.

    September 27, 2009 01:46 pm at 1:46 pm |
  19. na

    Where is the question of "mistake" when there wasnt an exit stategy at all to begin with

    September 27, 2009 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  20. Gepp

    The US cannot and will never win this nebulous "war" in Afghanistan. After all it was the US who trained and helped the Taliban defeat the Russians. The Taliban learned from the US how to defeat a super power. Obama has painted himself into a corner. His campaign rhetoric about the "war" in Afghanistan was disingenuous. He will stay there through out his term/terms to save face. And the bloodbath cost of American lives and treasure will taint his presidency just like Iraq did to GW Bush.

    Afghanistan will be Obama's Vietnam. And why would Gates and the generals say any exit strategy is a mistake?.......they are war professionals. They are only taught to fight wars not make peace.

    With the controversial health care reform and the discontent about Afghanistan Obama will be a one term president.

    September 27, 2009 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  21. loggie

    McCystal wants 40,000 additional troops according to reports. Before providing more troops Obama needs to ask McCystal a series of simple questions:
    1. can we win with an additional 40,000? If so, how? No fudged answers are acceptable, such as "maybe", "we may need more later", "It depends of how things develope on the ground, etc." Just yes or no.
    2. same question only with 50,000 and so on up the scale until you get an answer or reach 500,000, which would put us up to the number that was still not enough under Johnson in the Vietnam war.

    September 27, 2009 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  22. Black Dog

    One of the advantages of the conflict in Iraq is that the US sided with the independence-minded Kurds. In return the grateful Kurds provided support. In Afghanistan/Pakistan the independence-minded Pakhtoons have not received similar support from the US and are the source of the insurgency. US policy should be to support the establishment of an independent Pakhtunistan between (Dari/Uzbek/Hazara) Afghanistan and (Punjabi/Sindhi/Muhajir) Pakistan.

    September 27, 2009 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  23. av

    As a senator and to secure our country against terrorists, just increase the troops in Afganistan and continue the current strategy of bombing their hideouts in Pakistan, which may become an unstable very soon. Let the Afganistan Govt become little better and then slowly withdrew troops. Meanwhile, just make sure the aid that is given to Pakistan should not be misused.

    September 27, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  24. Rob

    Give me a break! Of course there'll be more troups sent. If not, the military doesn't need all those folks and they'll be given what is called in the miliatary as "early out". If that happens, there'll be another huge spike in first time unemployment claims. Despite what Obama says, there isn't new job creation (with the exception of the czars on his payroll). It's a number crunch; they can't have a surge of unemployment claims and continue to lie about job creation, recovery, blah, blah, blah.

    September 27, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  25. LouAz

    That is all, nothing else. Just get bin Laden.
    Don't do anything else except look for him.
    When you find him . . . Kill him.
    No trials, tribunals, incarceration. None of that crap.
    First guy to find him . . . Kill him.
    Then pack up all our stuff and come home quickly.
    Everyone will understand exactly what happened.
    Thank you soldier.

    September 27, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
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