Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is wrapping up his last official visit to American troops in Afghanistan with a visit to a base in Paktika province, near the border with Pakistan.
Secretary Gates is retiring at the end of the month. He has used this trip to outline his recommendations for a soon-to-begin U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. In comments made Sunday at a base in southern Helmand province, Gates said he would prefer that support troops, not combat soldiers, be pulled out first.
The defense secretary also warned Afghan President Hamid Karzai that his country needs to increase security, and that failure to do so would put the smooth withdrawal of U.S. forces at risk. He said he sees a possible end in sight to the nearly 10-year war, thanks to security gains made over the past 18 months. However, he said it is too early to know the impact that the death of al-Qaida chief Osama bin Laden will have on military efforts in the country.
In violence Monday, Afghan officials say unknown gunmen killed 11 people, including at least one Afghan soldier, in central Logar province.
A NATO service member was killed when an improved explosive device went off in southern Afghanistan. On Sunday, a British soldier was killed in a bomb blast while on patrol in Helmand province.
And in Nimroz province, insurgents attacked an Afghan checkpoint, killing two police officers and abducting five others.
Later in the week, Secretary Gates travels to Brussels for a NATO security conference. One of the topics will be the situation in Afghanistan.
At a recent security conference in Singapore, Gates said there could be peace talks with the Taliban within a year. However, he cautioned the talks will occur only if NATO's ground advances in Afghanistan continue to put pressure on the insurgents.