|A US soldier patrols in eastern Khas Kunar on December 8 (AFP photo)|
KABUL (AFP) – US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday toured the nerve centre of NATO command in Afghanistan, telling soldiers that success was in reach, despite the worsening eight-year war with the Taliban.
Gates visited the NATO-run International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) joint operation centre where around 170 people from 42 nations work and praised improved cooperation between the different allied countries.
"We have all the pieces coming together to be successful here," Gates told staff in the imposing command room full of banks of telephones and computers where commanders coordinate operations throughout Afghanistan.
Gates is the first top US administration official to visit Afghanistan since President Barack Obama ordered an extra 30,000 troops into battle against the Taliban as part of a sweeping new strategy to start withdrawing forces in 2011. Related article: Rebuilding efforts under fire
He spoke after the overall NATO commander in Afghanistan predicted the US troop surge will reverse the momentum of Taliban insurgents "by this time next year" and ensure their ultimate defeat.
"By the summer of 2011, it will be clear to the Afghan people that the insurgency will not win, giving them the chance to side with their government," General Stanley McChrystal told US lawmakers in Washington. Related article: US general confident on surge
McChrystal, who stands at the centre of a renewed push in the Afghan war, said he was confident of success because the Taliban were unpopular and Afghans see foreign troops as a "necessary bridge to future security and stability."
The additional 30,000 troops ordered by President Barack Obama will turn back insurgent momentum "by this time next year" and cut off the Taliban from the population, McChrystal, said.
The general, testifying before the House and Senate armed services committees, said that "by the summer of 2011, it will be clear to the Afghan people that the insurgency will not win, giving them the chance to side with their government."
McChrystal, who stands at the center of a renewed push in the Afghan war, said he was confident of success because the Taliban remained unpopular and that Afghans did not see foreign troops as occupiers but as a "necessary bridge to future security and stability."
The Taliban "are not a national liberation front that people inside are just waiting for their success," the general said. "They succeed largely on their coercion."