In Kabul, Gates urges patience with war

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Gates offered conciliatory words about unintended civilian deaths and injuries.

“I am keenly aware that some of these (ISAF) military operations have at times impacted the Afghan people in unwelcome ways, from minor but grating inconveniences to, in some rare but tragic cases, civilians accidentally killed or injured — losses we mourn and profoundly regret,” he said.

“But we also know that the vast majority of civilian casualties are caused by the Taliban, who intentionally target innocent men, women and children with their terror attacks. And few Afghan citizens want a return to the cruel and despotic regime that so devastated this country during the 1990s.”

Karzai said he, too, hopes the Taliban will undertake a “rethinking” of its relationship with al Qaeda in the aftermath of the May 2 U.S. raid that killed bin Laden at his compound in Pakistan.

When the Taliban ruled Afghanistan in the late 1990s, the group’s leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, gave bin Laden haven. When American forces invaded in October 2001 in retaliation for the Sept. 11 attacks, the Taliban were driven from power and bin Laden escaped into Pakistan.

Gates also said the Afghans must take more responsibility for their own security if a planned withdrawal of American and other foreign combat troops by the end of 2014 is to succeed.

He said the international military commitment to Afghanistan is strong and durable but “not infinite, in either time or resources.”

During his Afghanistan visit, Gates planned to travel around the country to meet with soldiers and Marines.

Some in Congress argue that the war’s cost, which now tops $100 billion a year, is excessive and unsustainable. Gates has disputed that reasoning.

“Success of the mission should override everything else because the most costly thing of all would be to fail,” he said before flying to Afghanistan.

“Now that does not preclude adjustments in the mission or in the strategy. But ultimately the objective has to be success in the mission that has been set forth by the president,” he said.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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