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Afghanistan a mixed picture says Gates

Kim Landers reported this story on Friday, August 14, 2009 12:30:00

ASHLEY HALL: With less than a week until Afghanistan's presidential election a top US official says
the security situation in the country as a "mixed picture".

The US Defense Secretary Robert Gates says it'll be at least a year before America and its allies
can assess whether the Obama administration's new strategy is working and he's not willing to
predict how long US combat troops will remain in Afghanistan.

Washington correspondent Kim Landers reports.

KIM LANDERS: Thousands of US, NATO and Afghan security forces are working to provide security at
remote voting sites across Afghanistan but US Defense Secretary Robert Gates concedes the situation
is volatile.

ROBERT GATES: We are looking at a mixed picture. In some parts of Afghanistan the Taliban have
clearly established a presence.

KIM LANDERS: Not all of the 21,000 extra troops ordered to Afghanistan by President Barack Obama
are there yet but Robert Gates says they've already helped to improve security enough to ensure
more Afghans can vote in next week's election.

The top US commander in Afghanistan is wrapping up an eagerly awaited assessment of the security
situation in the country.

General Stanley McChrystal's report is expected some time between the election and a NATO meeting
scheduled for September but Robert Gates says it won't include a request for more troops.

The US Defense Secretary won't be drawn on how much of Afghanistan is under Taliban control and he
is also cautious about predicting when the US expects to see results.

ROBERT GATES: I think that we are certainly hoping to see progress within a year in terms of the
new, the President's new strategy and General McChrystal's new strategy and tactics.

KIM LANDERS: The question of how long it'll take to get a stable security situation in Afghanistan
is difficult to answer.

Bruce Riedel was a CIA officer for 29 years. He recently headed a review of the
Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy for President Obama.

BRUCE RIEDEL: I think withdrawal without leaving behind competent local security forces is a recipe
for disaster. If we pull out of Afghanistan now or a year from now, the Afghan National Army and
the Afghan National Police are not going to be able to cope with the threat they face from the
Taliban and Al Qaeda behind it.

KIM LANDERS: But he says how long it'll take to get an adequate Afghan police and security force is
anyone's guess.

BRUCE RIEDEL: But the good news is Afghans are fighters and there are a lot of people in
Afghanistan who do not want to see a return to the medieval hell that the Taliban created in the
1990s and they are prepared to fight to prevent that from happening.

They need our help. They need our support. We're probably going to have to fund the Afghan Army for
the next decade, maybe the next two decades. Afghanistan's economy can't afford to do that. But
it's a lot cheaper to put Afghan soldiers into the battlefield than it is to send young Americans
or young Australians to go there and fight on their behalf.

KIM LANDERS: When Robert Gates is asked whether he expects the US to still be heavily committed in
Afghanistan a year from now he replies that it "depends a lot on the political environment in
Afghanistan and the Afghanistan security environment."

This is Kim Landers in Washington for The World Today.