Intl community engaged in tough fight in Afghanistan: Gates

"We need to have confidence and be able to demonstrate, I would say in four to six months, that we are moving in the right direction, we are moving toward the accomplishment of our goals," Defence Secretary Robert Gates said at a joint press conference with his visiting French counterpart Herve Morin.

"I think there is a general feeling that there has been some progress in that area, but it will have to be sustained," he said.

In response to a query, Gates said "there is no question that this is a tough fight, and we are just at the beginning, in many respects."

"The last American forces in the surge literally arrived just within the last three weeks or so. Some of the forces that I visited had been on the ground only for two weeks. So we are at the beginning of a process, and it is incremental," Gates said.

Afghanistan was one of the major topics of discussion when the two leaders met at the Pentagon yesterday.

"It's a very difficult struggle. It is probably more difficult to explain this struggle in Europe than in the United States, because it's true that for the part of the Europeans, it's difficult to understand that 6,000 kilometres away from home and in an area of influence which is not a traditional area of influence in Europe, a part of the safety of the world is at stake in Afghanistan," Morin said.

"There's no need to hide it; it's the truth," he said.

About the troops deployed in Afghanistan, including the ISAF forces and the French contingent, the French Minister said the risk and threat to them "are permanent."

"The level of threat and the risks in which they operate is -- very honestly, I don't think that things will be changed drastically, because they're currently under permanent risk.
"Every time they launch operations, when you're at the maximum, whatever the lack of reality of such and such speech or words, you cannot go higher," Morin said in response to a question.

Gates called France a strong partner, both in the fight against terrorism and in training Afghan security forces.

France also has been a leader in sanctions against Iran, fight against al-Qaeda in Africa and revitalisation of NATO, he said.

"Our bilateral relationship is hugely powerful at the political and military level," Morin said.
He also said that his relationship with Gates is "a relationship of trust" and there is "huge confidence between the two of us."

During their meeting, they discussed issues mostly relating to the US-NATO campaign in Afghanistan, Gates said.

Unequivocal in the need for the French to remain in Afghanistan, Morin said "there cannot be a European speech or position where we announce we are pulling out because that would be the best way to encourage the Taliban."

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