WASHINGTON - Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday that an Afghan assessment due soon from commanding Gen. Stanley McChrystal won't contain any specific recommendations for increases in troops.
At a Pentagon news conference Thursday, Gates called the current situation in Afghanistan "a mixed picture," and he acknowledged that the Taliban has established a presence.
The Obama administration expects the latest assessment of ground conditions from McChrystal some time between Afghanistan's Aug. 20 presidential election and a NATO meeting scheduled for September, he said.
Gates said it is essential that U.S. and NATO troops help the Afghan government become secure enough to protect people from intimidation and retribution by Taliban forces.
Gates said he thinks "we have done some real damage over time" to the al-Qaida terrorist network and its allies, but that it remains a threat.
On Afghanistan, the secretary said the United States still is working to avoid civilian casualties and said that he believes "the rules of engagement that Lt. Gen. McChrystal has put in are making a real difference."
Asked if he expects the United States to still be heavily committed in Afghanistan a year from now, Gates said that it "depends a lot on the political environment in Afghanistan and the Afghanistan security environment."
Neither Gates nor Joint Chiefs Vice Chairman Marine Gen. James Cartwright could predict how long U.S. combat troops would remain in Afghanistan. Military leaders, lawmakers and outside experts around Washington offer a wide-ranging timeline for U.S. troops in the fight: anywhere from two years to over a decade.
There are 62,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan, with 6,000 more to deploy by the end of the year.
"We need some time to see what the impact of all that is" before adding more troops, Gates said.
Cartwright, the nation's second-ranking military commander, suggested that some changes will be needed "pretty soon."
"The IED fight is pretty lethal," Cartwright said, referring to bomb-like improvised explosive devices.
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