Gates Tells NATO Allies Not to Rush Out of Afghanistan

Posted June 9th, 2011 at 6:45 pm (UTC-5)
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Outgoing U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has urged NATO allies not to rush out of Afghanistan as the United States prepares to begin its own withdrawal next month.

Gates, who is retiring on June 30, attended his final meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels Thursday. He said substantial military progress is being made on the ground, but warned that those gains could be threatened if the transition to full Afghan government control of security is not made in a deliberate, organized and coordinated manner.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen refused to commit to either timelines or figures for a pullout Thursday, but stressed that there would be no rush for the exit in Afghanistan by NATO or its partners. He said operations in Afghanistan remain a “key operational priority” for the alliance and predicted the Afghan government will take full control of security by 2014.

U.S. President Barack Obama remains committed to beginning a troop pullout from Afghanistan in July, but it is unclear just how many U.S. personnel will go.

Meanwhile in Afghanistan, many Afghans watched with concern as the U.S. Congress debated the future of international assistance in their country.

Many Afghans are worried that the West may leave too quickly and abandon them like the U.S. did after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. The move ultimately led to civil war and the rise of the Taliban.

Some Afghans who spoke to VOA also expressed criticism that the foreign community is focusing too much on security and war fighting and too little on providing long-term opportunity for them.