Foreign Policy Blogs

Open the Gates

imagesUS Defense (or is it War) Secretary Robert Gates spoke candidly about the war in Afghanistan to group of reporters yesterday aboard an Air Force plane. Gates, who has gone from a seemingly short, holdover type term to one filled with significance, warned that unless “a perceptible shift in momentum” occurs with the Obama administration’s Afghan strategy, American public support for the war will ‘dissipate’.  Gates went on…”People are willing to stay in the fight, I believe, if they think we’re making headway.  If they think we’re stalemated and having our young men and women get killed, then patience is going to run out pretty fast.”

This possibility becomes more acute when one looks at US poll numbers and the fact that dozens of Democratic representatives already support a withdrawal.  Gates’ concern emphasizes how important it will be for not only some signs of progress in Afghanistan’s (and Pakistan’s) stability, but also the fact that President Obama will have to use some of his political capital and weight to keep morale and ‘hope’ up in the States.

Gates not only stated that the US was basically ‘losing’ in Afghanistan, but also that the Taliban were the ones with momentum.  This unfortunately is obviously true as US and NATO forces in past year have sustained increased fatalities and injuries, lost more regions to Taliban control, and have watched the group make strategic gain after gain in Pakistan.

In the interview, Gates also bluntly stated that Iran was ‘hurting US interests’ in Afghanistan by sending weapons to the Taliban and other violent groups.  He specifically voiced concern over possible Iranian shipments of ‘penetrators’, which I guess can be used as extremely powerful roadside bombs that can pierce ‘the strongest armor.’  These warnings by Gates fly in the face of talks about Tehran being a positive force in Afghanistan.  Yes, Iran and the US share certain strategic elements in the conflicted state and region (stability numero uno), but their interests and policies are clearly not completely in-line.