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Robert Gates on Iraq, Afghanistan -

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KERRY OBRIEN: The Rudd Government has commissioned a defence white paper which could see a dramatic
change in strategic priorities or at least in the way defence dollars are spent. Defence Minister
Joel Fitzgibbon is also reviewing whether to proceed with a $6 billion plus contract for a fleet of
new Super Hornet fighter jet aircraft from the United States. In talks at the weekend with senior
Bush Administration officials including Defence Secretary Robert Gates, Mr Fitzgibbon raised a
couple of sore points from Australia's perspective. One, a ban on the sale to Australia and other
countries by an act of Congress of America's new super stealth fighter the F22 Raptor. Australia
has also been critical of the way the conflict in Afghanistan is proceeding, particularly
Australia's interaction with NATO forces there. I spoke at the conclusion of the talks with Robert
Gates in Canberra.

Robert Gates, recently you've been putting a great deal of effort and energy, pushing hard to get a
greater commitment at the hard military coalface of Afghanistan from NATO members. Can you quantify
what more they can commit, what more they could do?

ROBERT GATES, US DEFENCE SECRETARY: I think it's important to understand that each of the
individual nations has kept the commitment that it made. The commitment that has not been kept is
the commitment of the heads of Government at Reba to provide the NATO commander in Afghanistan with
what he requires in order to be successful and it's that broader commitment by the heads of
Government that has not been met. The overall requirements of the Commander at this point are
actually fairly modest. Something on the order of 7,500 to 10,000 troops overall to meet all of the
needs, the training needs, the manoeuvre battalions, particularly in the south and so on. And it's
that requirement that needs to be met. We are meeting part of it temporarily by sending another
3,200 Marines, but they will only be there until November.

KERRY OBRIEN: The implication is that on the military front things are not going as they should be?

ROBERT GATES: I would say we've been very successful in the campaigns so far. Last spring was
supposed to be a great Taliban offensive. It ended up being NATO's offensive. One of the reasons
why we are sending the extra marines this spring is to ensure that we have the force in place to be
able to keep the Taliban on their back foot. And they've changed tactics because of our military
successes in the conventional confrontations, the Taliban are turning more to insurgency kinds of
activities, which means a lot of local terror, killing school teachers, local officials and so on.
And so, what we are confronting is a changing landscape in Afghanistan in terms of the military
challenge. But frankly, that frankly requires more forces, because we are able to clear areas, but
we don't have enough troops to be able to hold those areas and allow economic development and so on
to take place.

KERRY OBRIEN: I'm sure you would understand and be aware of Australia's position, that if
Australians see Australian soldiers being put in harm's way. But don't feel that some other
countries who are there who are prepared to make that same commitment that potentially over time it
becomes harder for Australia politically at home to maintain its commitment at that level. Does
that make sense?

ROBERT GATES: Absolutely, and we are seeing that inside the alliance, for example with the
Canadians. The Canadians aren't asking for people to replace them, they're asking for
reinforcements. They're asking for someone to come in and augment the 2,500 Canadians that are
fighting in the south and that requirement has not yet been met.

KERRY OBRIEN: Is it fair to say that at the heart of the whole Afghanistan strategy and the hopes
for Afghanistan's future, that it's built on the very shaky foundation of if not Karzai then who?
That beyond Karzai where does Afghanistan go if something were to happen to Karzai?

ROBERT GATES: I think there are always alternatives as some famous French statesman said, "The
cemeteries are full of indispensable men." I think that the reality is that Karzai is a popularly
elected president. He does retain popularity within the country. That said, there are clearly
Government problems, there is a need to have more competent governors in various provinces. The
ministries need to be more effective. So there is a lot of work to be done and we're prepared to
help.

KERRY OBRIEN: In your job I guess you don't have the luxury of sentiments like regret, but you must
have quiet moments when you wonder how differently things may have gone in Afghanistan over these
past few years. If America hadn't decided to go into Iraq, put so much of its focus, so much of its
resources, so much of its energy into trying to redeem what happened after the invasion in Iraq,
get Iraq back onto a reasonable footing and deal with the politics at home, surely that has been a
distraction?

ROBERT GATES: I think in terms of Afghanistan that as I understand it, I wasn't in Government at
the time. But after the original ouster of the Taliban there was a focus, particularly by the
United States and others in Afghanistan on humanitarian activities, on reconstruction, economic
development and so on. And sort of under the surface there were several illegal centres of power
regaining strength in a way that wasn't particularly visible in 2003, 2004. The narcotics drug
lords, the warlords and the Taliban, and they were operating under the surface, and it really was
only in 2005 that we began to see a rise in violence of some consequence. So as I indicated earlier
we've seen a changing landscape in Afghanistan and as we've now gone from more conventional
setpiece battles between the Taliban and NATO, we're now seeing more insurgent kind of activity on
the part of the Taliban. So it continues to change.

KERRY OBRIEN: But you do have to face the possibility, because you're talking about a commitment
that may well last for many years. America at some point may have to face the possibility of less
or no commitment from Europe, virtually Europe walking away from Afghanistan. So there is a
possibility, is there not, that one day America finds itself with far fewer friends standing
shoulder to shoulder in Afghanistan?

ROBERT GATES: Well, I don't know. I think that one of the things we're trying to do at the NATO
summit in Bucharest is to have the heads of government issue a statement about why we are in
Afghanistan. And frankly I think that there's not been a good enough job in terms of educating the
European publics about how their own security is at risk depending on events in Afghanistan. And
when I gave a speech recently in Munich, one of the things I tried to do was point out specific
terrorist attacks that have taken place in Europe and attacks that have been thwarted and how they
originated in Afghanistan, how they were tied to al Qaeda. I think the Europeans simply need a
better understanding of how their security is directly tied to what happens in Afghanistan.

KERRY OBRIEN: You, I assume, have sympathy for Australia's position that although Australia is not
a member of NATO and can't formally share in intelligence and other sensitive information that's
available to NATO members. At the same time, is Australia going to be get access informally to that
information in Afghanistan so that it can feel that it is fighting as part of a genuine team and a
member that's being consulted and being made privy to all the same information as NATO?

ROBERT GATES: I didn't realise until the meeting of NATO defence ministers and a conversation with
your Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon that Australia was not getting that information, or was
getting it under the table, because that was the only way it could be done. This made me very
unhappy and I think we've resolved that problem so that Australia will get all the information that
it needs and should have.

KERRY OBRIEN: If we can talk now about planes. You'd be well aware of the debate taking place in
Australia about whether this Government will remain committed to buying the Super Hornet. Secondly,
about the level of unhappiness, that whether Australia wanted to buy the Raptor or not, that it's
told even though it's a very strong ally of the United States, it can't access the Raptor. I know
you spoke about this on Saturday, but can you clarify what your position is on this? We're told
that Australia has to go to Congress and argue its case, but are you prepared to be proactive?

ROBERT GATES: Well, I think it probably is at the end of the day not appropriate for Australia to
make its case directly to the Congress to change the law. I think that's my job and the job of the
administration. The reality is we have a law that prohibits the United States from selling F22 to
any country. Others such as Japan want the F22 and we're in a position we can't sell them the F22
either. So I think it's up to us to try to see if we can get this statute changed.

KERRY OBRIEN: So, how much of a priority will that be for you? How proactive are you prepared to be
on that issue?

ROBERT GATES: I'm certainly prepared to address it.

KERRY OBRIEN: Do you personally see any reason why Australia could not be trusted with the Raptor?

ROBERT GATES: Absolutely not.

KERRY OBRIEN: And equally, do you see any cause for unhappiness within the administration if the
Australian Government decides not to proceed with the Super Hornet contract?

ROBERT GATES: I think that's, I know that the Government is undertaking a defence white paper. I
think each country has to make the decisions in terms of its own weapon systems, in terms of its
own needs.

KERRY OBRIEN: Robert Gates, thanks very much for talking with us.

ROBERT GATES: Thank you.