‘More dark days’, ‘much fighting’ in Afghan war, warns Gates

March 9th, 2010 - 1:17 am ICT by IANS  

Taliban Kabul, March 8 (DPA) US Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Monday that NATO allies would see “more dark days” and “much fighting ahead” in Afghanistan, but insisted that there were also reasons for optimism about the ultimate success of the campaign.
Gates arrived in Kabul on an unannounced visit Monday morning and met Afghan President Hamid Karzai and top NATO commander in the country, US General Stanley McChrystal, as thousands of NATO forces are pressing the biggest-ever offensive in that country’s south.

“There is still much fighting ahead,” Gates said in a joint press conference with President Karzai in his heavily fortified presidential palace, adding that there would “assuredly be more dark days.

“But looking forward there are ground for optimism as our countries pursue what President Karzai has called an Afghan-led and an Afghan-owned initiative to ensure peace and stability. That is the goal I share and, working together, it is one we can achieve,” he said.

Nearly 520 NATO troops, including more than 300 US soldiers, were killed in Afghanistan’s conflict last year, the deadliest year since the fall of the Taliban regime. A total of 118 coalition soldiers have been killed so far this year.

With public support for the Afghan war waning in the US and other Western countries, NATO officials have been warning of more casualties as an additional 30,000 US and up to 7,000 NATO troops are to arrive in Afghanistan by summer on top of 113,000 already

stationed in the war-torn country.

With the arrival of extra forces, the US and NATO military hope to turn the tide of the eight-year war in the country and steadily draw down the number of their forces as the newly trained indigenous forces take over the security responsibilities.

Some 15,000 Afghan forces, US Marines and British soldiers began the biggest-ever operation Mushtarak - a local word for “together” - since the ouster of the Taliban regime in late 2001, seizing control of large swaths of land in the province of Helmand and the adjacent district of Nad Ali.

Gates praised the combined forces’ success at Monday’s press conference and said that the “initial results are encouraging.”

“Of course the operation in Marjah is only one of many battles to come in a much longer campaign focus on protecting the people of Afghanistan,” he said, referring to the town where the operation started.

Gates did not say where the next target of the combined forces was, but other Afghan and NATO officials have said that operation in Marjah was a prelude to a much bigger operation in the neighbouring province of Kandahar.

Kandahar was the birthplace for the Taliban movement and the main stronghold for its leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. More than half of the new additional US troops are to be deployed to that province.

Karzai, who traveled to Marjah, one of the main bastions for Taliban in the region and the biggest opium market in the country until recently, on Sunday said that he got a list of complaints about government corruption and NATO’s operations during his meeting with the elders in the centre of the town.

“I shared with him (Gates) all the realities that the people (in Marjah) shared them with me yesterday,” Karzai said, adding that he hoped the US government supports him to address those problems of the people in the newly freed town.

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