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“Everyone understands that the sanctuaries on the other side of the border are a big problem” and the joint U.S.-Pakistan objective is to expunge those hideouts, Mr. Gates said. But he noted that recent flooding in Pakistan would delay the government’s strike at militants there.

From Camp Nathan Smith, Mr. Gates traveled west of Kandahar to violent Zhari district, which Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez calls “one of the critical districts” outside the city.

Speaking to reporters, Gen. Rodriguez predicted that U.S. and Afghan forces will be able to show some progress in Kandahar province before the end of the year and in time for an important end-of-year evaluation of the war by the Obama administration.

Gen. Rodriguez said the progress would be piecemeal and gradual, predicting Afghans would feel less intimidation from insurgents and local governing councils would be less dominated by local powerbrokers.