US and Afghanistan ‘still partners’

Robert Gates underscores joint effort to fight Taliban and al-Qaeda, despite Afghan criticism of US role.

Gates, right, said Karzai’s comments were borne out of frustration after three decades of war [AFP]

Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, has said that the US and Afghanistan remain together in their fight against Taliban and al-Qaeda, despite criticism from Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, over the US’ role in his country.

Gates made the comments on Tuesday in Washington DC after Karzai had said at the weekend that the US should reduce its military presence in Afghanistan as Afghan’s have lost patience with their increasingly poor record there.

“We will continue to partner with him through this conflict,” Gates said at a conference convened by the Wall Street Journal newspaper.

“I think President Karzai is reflecting the impatience of a country that’s been at war for 30 years,” he said.

Gates asserted that Karzai remained “our partner”.

Reduce visibility

Karzai made the complaints in an interview with The Washington Post newspaper, stating that the visibility and intensity of US operations needed to be reduced.

Gates said that Karzai and the US held the same desire to reduce the US’ role in Afghanistan to a developmental one.

“We share that desire. The problem is we can’t get from here to there tomorrow,” Gates said.

“And I think the reality is that he [Karzai] understands what we have to do to get Afghanistan to that point.”

Violence in Afghanistan is currently at its worst since the US invaded the country in 2001.

Last December, Barack Obama, the US president, committed an extra 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. Obama has also said that troops will start leaving the country in July 2011.

Patty Culhane, Al Jazeera’s White House correspondent, said that Karzai’s comments have angered many in Washington.

“Privately US officials were angry with the comments, but publicly the US defence secretary is brushing it off.”

Yemen counterterrorism

Gates also spoke on the current situation in Yemen, where an al-Qaeda-linked group have posed increasing threats, including failed aircraft bombings last month and in December 2009.

He said that building local capacity was the best method to counteract al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), adding, “We don’t need another war”.

“Our biggest tools particularly with respect to Yemen are the partnership capacity of the Yemenis themselves and enabling them to go after these guys.

“And the Yemenis have shown a willingness to go after AQAP.”

Washington has increased counterterrorism assistance to Yemen in the 2010 fiscal year to $155m from $4.6m four years ago.

Gates also talked at the conference on the situation with Iran, stating US sanctions against the country were “biting much harder” than Tehran had expected.

He said that the state of Iran’s economy has caused divisions among its leaders.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies


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