Gates Continues His Farewell Tour in Afghanistan

Posted June 6th, 2011 at 3:50 am (UTC-5)
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Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is bidding a final farewell to the U.S. troops in Afghanistan. He flew Monday to a troop base in Paktika province, which borders Pakistan.

The forward operating base in Omnah district is in a remote and dangerous part of the province.

Secretary Gates, who is retiring at the end of the month, visited southern Afghanistan Sunday. In his remarks during visits to bases in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, Gates said a soon-to-begin U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan should start with support troops, not combat soldiers.

The defense secretary has 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.

Field commanders at both bases said they have seen significant security gains, but the violence rages on. On Sunday, four NATO service members were killed in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Later in the week he travels to Brussels for a NATO security conference. One of the topics will be the situation in Afghanistan.

Saturday, the defense secretary hinted that he saw a possible end in sight to the nearly 10-year-old war, thanks to security gains in the past 18 months.

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 would only occur if NATO's ground advances in Afghanistan continue to put pressure on the insurgents.