Are Troops Staying Or Returning, Ponders Gates?

Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he hopes to be a ble to continue to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq over the coming months even as military commanders in the field poder a pause in troop cuts. Secretary Gates told Australian military leaders it might be necessary to have a brief “pause” in order to reflect on the situation and consider what can be done in the future regarding a withdrawal of American forces. “I think my hope still is that we will be able to further draw down our troops in Iraq over the course of the next 10 to 12 months.” He did not comment on the decision of the new Rudd government in Australia to cut back on its forces in Iraq. “We’re concerned about the strees on our forces, the Australians are confronting that challenge themselves.”

Australia has a force of about 1,000 troops in Afghanistan and shares concerns that many
European nations are not placing sufficient numbers of men in the field in that area of the world. Gates was given assurances there is no present plan for withdrawal of Australian forces from Afghanistan.

A recurring issue is the lack of a comprehensive plan for dealing with Afghanistan as allies squabble over what to do and the situation shows scant sign of success. Six years have passed without a vigorous approach to creating a vibrant economy and challenging the Taliban in rural areas of the nation.