Gates arrives in Afghanistan to assess war progress
Gates would meet with US troops, allied commanders and Afghan officials, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) confirmed the two-day trip, but released no other details.
Gates would travel to eastern and southern Afghanistan to get a first-hand feel of how things had changed since December 2010, when Barack Obama, the US president, sent in an additional 30,000 extra US troops, according to the Defense Department spokesman, Geoff Morrell, who spoke to reporters flying with Gates.
The trip comes at an important and sensitive time for Afghan-US relations. Obama wants to start withdrawing troops as of July, but has said it will be determined by the situation on the ground. Karzai is expected to announce a timetable for that withdrawal on March 21.
The visit also comes as the NATO-led ISAF has come under increasing criticism for civilian casualties during its missions. On Sunday, Karzai said an apology from the top general in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, would not satfisy the Afghan people. In the past two weeks, NATO-led operations have killed 74 civilians, including nine boys collecting firewood.
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