In a somewhat ambiguous statement regarding the Obama Administration’s plans for the nation, Defense Secretary Robert Gates held up the possibility that US troops would begin the “transition” to handing over control of parts of the nation to Afghanistan sooner than expected.
In an environment starving for rare glimmers of hope in Afghanistan, the comment was seized upon and speculation quickly began to fly that this might mean some troops leaving the nation before July 2011 as well, though Gates was quick to insist that any such move would be “conditions-based.”
It seems that the comment, made in a joint press conference with Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Wardak at a training site, was meant to quell concerns about the problems NATO is having training Afghan forces to the massive level sought by the Obama Administration, coming as the two lauded “eager” new troops at the training site.
Still, the comment is a far cry from Gates’ December Kabul speech, in which he suggested that the US would be propping up the Afghan military for as much as four years, and that funding would be needed for decades. Today’s comments didn’t necessarily contradict anything from December, but they were surprisingly upbeat in tone.