U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Kabul, where he says Afghan and international troops have “hard fighting” ahead of them.
Speaking to reporters Monday, Gates praised recent NATO gains, including the takeover of the southern Taliban-held town of Marjah. But when asked if the Marjah offensive and the recent capture of senior Taliban commanders in Pakistan are having a noticeable impact on the Afghan battlefield, he warned against “reading too much” into specific developments and warned of “hard days” ahead.
He said that overall, the situation in Afghanistan remains serious, but it has stopped deteriorating.
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, says allied forces in the south will gradually mass over the coming months to secure Kandahar, a key city in the Taliban’s traditional southern stronghold.
General McChrystal says that unlike the Marjah offensive, the operation to secure Kandahar will be more gradual as more U.S. troops arrive in the region. He declined to give a timetable for the offensive, saying only that there will be more U.S. troops in the region in the coming months.
Meanwhile, officials in eastern Khost province say Afghan police backed by U.S. troops killed two suicide attackers. Police say the gunmen set off a bomb and then fled to a building next to a police station, where they were surrounded and killed in a shootout.
Gates also warned Iran about offering help to the Taliban. Gates said Iran should understand that the U.S. reaction would not be one that Iran “would want to think about.”
Gates accused Tehran of playing a “double game” in Afghanistan — being friendly to the Afghan government while at the same time trying to undermine the U.S.
Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell later said Gates was referring only to actions the U.S. might take inside Afghanistan and not to a wider confrontation with Iran.
Gates’s trip to Afghanistan is his first since the start of U.S. President Barack Obama’s surge of 30,000 additional forces.