The Bush administration is looking at possible changes in its war strategy in Afghanistan in light of rising levels of violence and an increasingly complex insurgent threat, Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged Thursday.
"You have an overall approach, an overall strategy, but you adjust it continually based on the circumstances that you find," Gates said in an interview with a group of reporters at a London hotel. "We did that in Iraq. We made a change in strategy in Iraq and we are going to continue to look at the situation in Afghanistan."
Pressed for more details about the review of Afghan strategy, Gates would say only, "We're looking at it."
Gates visited Afghanistan on Wednesday and flew to London for NATO consultations.
He did not reveal whether the White House has launched a formal review of its war strategy. But his remarks indicated that the administration sees a need to make some adjustments as progress there remains slow.
The Joint Chiefs chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, told a House committee last week that he had commissioned a study of Afghan strategy to incorporate the complexities presented by rising unrest and insurgent activity in Pakistan. Mullen also publicly questioned whether the United States is winning in Afghanistan.
An exit strategy
Gates also said that at a NATO meeting here Thursday and Friday he would raise the issue of how to share the cost of a planned doubling in the size of the Afghan national army. He said building up the capacity and effectiveness of Afghanistan's own security forces is "ultimately the exit strategy for all of us."
The United States has about 33,000 troops in Afghanistan, and President Bush has ordered an Army brigade of about 3,700 soldiers that had been preparing to deploy to Iraq to instead go to Afghanistan in January.
Bush also announced last April at a NATO summit meeting in Bucharest, Romania, that the United States would send even more troops to Afghanistan later in 2009, beyond his term in office, when ends in January.
Gates mentioned that Bush pledge on Thursday and said, "I expect his successor will meet that commitment."
Gates noted that violence has been on the rise in Afghanistan for the past two years, in part because of cross-border attacks from al-Qaida, Taliban and other extremist elements that find refuge in neighboring Pakistan. And he said the nature of the insurgency in Afghanistan has changed, with a wider variety of extremist groups that, while not centrally coordinated, pose an evolving challenge.
"We see some lessons to be learned from Iraq in terms of the need to establish security as a precondition or economic development and better governance. That means more forces," he said. "But I think we are in complete accord with our European allies that the military side of this is only one piece of the solution."