Afghanistan is top US priority: Pentagon chief
Afghanistan now poses "the greatest military challenge" to the United States, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday as he predicted "a long and difficult fight".
Gates said there have not been enough troops to provide security in the most dangerous parts of the country so the new administration of President Barack Obama was considering an increase in US forces there.
"There is little doubt that our greatest military challenge right now is Afghanistan," Gates said. "President Obama has made it clear that the Afghanistan theatre should be our top military priority."
Gates said the Pentagon would probably be in a position to deploy three combat brigades to Afghanistan by mid-summer, but the deployment of a fourth would have to await the expansion of basing infrastructure there.
"While this will undoubtedly be a long and difficult fight, we can attain what I believe should be among our strategic objectives: an Afghan people who do not provide a safe haven for Al-Qaeda, reject the rule of the Taliban, and support the legitimate government that they elected and in which they have a stake," he said.
Unlike other Obama cabinet officers, Gates does not require confirmation in his post by the Senate, but he went before the Senate Armed Services Committee to address questions in his role as defense secretary in a new administration.
The US commander in Afghanistan has requested 30,000 more troops for the country -- including the four combat brigades, each with about 3,500 soldiers -- nearly doubling the 34,000 US troops already there.
This video is from The Associated Press, broadcast Jan. 27, 2009.
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