Just before the expected completion of the U.S. strategy review on the war in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Afghanistan in an unannounced trip Tuesday to assess the U.S. war strategy and progress in the nine-year conflict.
Gates's visit will most likely be more in-depth than President Obama's own surprise three-hour trip to the country last week. Both trips were touted as primarily holiday visits to thank the troops for their service, and like Obama, Gates will meet with the top commander of U.S. and coalition forces, Gen. David Petraeus, and the U.S. ambassador to the country, Karl Eikenberry.
Gates is also scheduled to meet with the commander of joint forces, Gen. David Rodriguez, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Bad weather had kept Obama from meeting with Karzai, though some speculated that the cancellation was purposeful due to strained relations after one diplomatic cable revealed on WikiLeaks called Karzai "a paranoid and weak individual."
The White House denied this allegation, saying that the poor weather conditions made it impossible for the president to make the trip, and the two conversed for 15 minutes by secure video conference.
This visit, Gates's 10th in his tenure, comes just a year after Obama announced his new strategy for the war in Afghanistan and ordered a surge of 30,000 troops to ramp up the offensive against the insurgency while training local Afghan troops to prepare to take over security control.
The strategy review for progress on this front, expected to be completed next week, will then be presented to Obama and his national security team, who will assess whether to make any changes to the war strategy.
"What the secretary learns here, what he sees here, what he thinks here will inform the discussion that is taking place back in Washington," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said of Gates's visit. "I think that coming into this visit, we have a pretty good sense that the strategy is working on the security side and elsewhere, but I think this [visit] is important to inform that discussion back in Washington."
Gates is "feeling very good" about the progress in Afghanistan over the past year, Morrell said.