March 7, 2011
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who is on a surprise visit to Afghanistan, says the American military should stay in the conflict-riddled country despite the rising human costs.
“Obviously it would be a small fraction of the presence that we have today, but I think we’re willing to do that,” AP quoted Gates as saying in a speech before a group of US troops at Bagram air field, which is the headquarters for US-led forces in eastern Afghanistan.
The Pentagon chief flew into Kabul on Monday to assess the US-led war amid tensions with Afghan President Hamid Karzai over the increasing number of civilian deaths in the country.
“The civilian casualties are a main cause of worsening the relationship between Afghanistan and the US,” a statement from the Afghan presidency quoted Karzai as saying on Sunday.
Gates also plans to hold talks with Karzai as well as top US commander General David Petraeus.
The defense secretary’s trip comes at a time of heightened tension between the Afghan government and the US over the killing of nine children during a NATO raid last week.
Karzai rejected Washington’s apology over the incident, calling on NATO to do more to prevent such incidents during airstrikes.
The children were killed in a NATO helicopter raid while collecting firewood in the northeastern province of Kunar.
Hundreds of Afghans rallied on Sunday in capital Kabul to condemn civilian killings by foreign troops.
The Afghan president, during his February 9 press conference, did not give a date for finalizing a deal with the US on the American military presence in Afghanistan, but said any long-term partnership would need to be approved by the parliament and the grand tribal council known as the Loya Jirga.
There are now over 150,000 US-led troops in Afghanistan.
This article was posted: Monday, March 7, 2011 at 9:29 am