Gates mends ties with Karzai on unannounced trip to Kabul
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Kabul to fix strained relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai following the accidental killing of nine Afghan boys in a NATO airstrike last week. "This breaks our heart," Gates said at a Monday press conference standing alongside Karzai. "Not only is their loss a tragedy for their families, it ...
Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Kabul to fix strained relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai following the accidental killing of nine Afghan boys in a NATO airstrike last week.
"This breaks our heart," Gates said at a Monday press conference standing alongside Karzai. "Not only is their loss a tragedy for their families, it is a setback for our relationship with the Afghan people, whose security is our chief concern."
"I would also like to offer President Karzai my personal apology, because I know these tragedies weigh heavily on his heart and create problems for him as the leader and protector of the Afghan people," Gates said.
The United States still plans to transition to an Afghan lead on most operations and begin drawing down troops this summer, Gates said, as he gave a positive reading on the progress of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) efforts to more forcefully engage the Taliban ahead of that transition.
"The gains we are seeing across the country are significant," he added, noting that Karzai would soon announce the first areas that will be transferred to the control of the Afghan armed forces.
"While no decisions on numbers have been made, in my view, we will be well-positioned to begin drawing down some U.S. and coalition forces this July, even as we redeploy others to different areas of the country," said Gates.
For his part, Karzai accepted Gates’s apology for the accidental civilian deaths, which was significant because he had rejected a similar apology by Gen. David Petraeus only last week.
"Secretary Gates is an honored friend of Afghanistan. And I trust completely when he says he’s sorry and he apologizes," Karzai said. "But while we take that apology with a lot of respect and agree with it to accept it today, I would request Secretary Gates that he take the plea of the Afghan people to Washington that these civilian casualties stop, and make the utmost effort so we don’t have them anymore."
Gates also said that the U.S. government was prepared to keep some troops in Afghanistan beyond 2014, the scheduled date for the full transfer of territory to Afghan control. He said that if the Afghan government gives its permission, the United States would be interested in an ongoing security relationship in Afghanistan that could include keeping active some of the bases currently in use.
"The United States, I think, is open to the possibility of having some presence here in terms of training and assistance, perhaps making use of facilities made available to us by the Afghan government for those purposes," Gates said.
Also, an open microphone picked up a casual conversation between Gates and Petraeus where they joked about a possible military attack on Libya, ABC news reported.
"Welcome back, sir," Petraeus said to Gates when he arrived in Kabul.
"You returning to normal, you gonna launch some attacks on Libya or something?" Petreaus joked to Gates.
"Yeah, exactly," Gates joked back.
Josh Rogin covers national security and foreign policy and writes the daily Web column The Cable. His column appears bi-weekly in the print edition of The Washington Post. He can be reached for comments or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Previously, Josh covered defense and foreign policy as a staff writer for Congressional Quarterly, writing extensively on Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, U.S.-Asia relations, defense budgeting and appropriations, and the defense lobbying and contracting industries. Prior to that, he covered military modernization, cyber warfare, space, and missile defense for Federal Computer Week Magazine. He has also served as Pentagon Staff Reporter for the Asahi Shimbun, Japan's leading daily newspaper, in its Washington, D.C., bureau, where he reported on U.S.-Japan relations, Chinese military modernization, the North Korean nuclear crisis, and more.
A graduate of George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs, Josh lived in Yokohama, Japan, and studied at Tokyo's Sophia University. He speaks conversational Japanese and has reported from the region. He has also worked at the House International Relations Committee, the Embassy of Japan, and the Brookings Institution.
Josh's reporting has been featured on CNN, MSNBC, C-Span, CBS, ABC, NPR, WTOP, and several other outlets. He was a 2008-2009 National Press Foundation's Paul Miller Washington Reporting Fellow, 2009 military reporting fellow with the Knight Center for Specialized Journalism and the 2011 recipient of the InterAction Award for Excellence in International Reporting. He hails from Philadelphia and lives in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @joshrogin
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