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Gates Seeks Afghan Anti-Corruption Steps as Drawdown Begins

Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his government to step up anti-corruption measures and to improve services as U.S.-led troops begin a “modest” drawdown this year.

A combination of “serious losses” for the Taliban and growth in the numbers and skill of the Afghan National Army and police puts the U.S. in a position “to consider some modest drawdowns beginning in July,” Gates said in a joint appearance with Karzai after their last meeting before the U.S. defense chief retires from office this month

“This shift in military momentum provides the Afghan government an opportunity to strengthen the confidence of its people though economic development, fair enforcement of the rule of law, attacking corruption, and the provision of basic services,” Gates told journalists in Kabul yesterday.

President Barack Obama has said he wants a “responsible” drawdown based on security conditions.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other nations in the coalition, which have almost 150,000 troops in the war zone, plan to hand over the lead nationwide to Afghans in 2014.

“While the international commitment here is strong and durable, that commitment is not infinite, in either time or resources,” Gates said. “For the upcoming transition to be successful, the Afghan government and security forces must be willing to step up and take more and more responsibility for governing and defending their own territory.”

Bin Laden’s Death

Gates said it’s too soon to determine whether the U.S. killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden last month has had any effect on the insurgency by the Taliban, which harbored his group in Afghanistan before being ousted from power by American forces after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The U.S. hopes the killing of bin Laden may prompt Taliban leader Mullah Omar to sever his group’s ties with al-Qaeda because the affiliation was partly based on the two men’s personal relationship, Gates said. That might allow for reconciliation talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government, Gates said.

Karzai reiterated his recent call for coalition forces to stop raiding homes and risking civilian casualties. While Gates said coalition leaders “mourn and profoundly regret” such losses, he said the Taliban inflicts the vast majority of civilian casualties.

The civilian death toll in Afghanistan rose 20 percent in 2010 from the year before, with insurgent attacks accounting for more than 90 percent of the increase, according to an analysis of coalition data published in the journal Science and released in March. The analysis was similar to the findings of a separate United Nations report.

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