Gates: U.S. fighting ‘tough test’ to oust Taliban

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates answers questions at a news conference in Krakow, Poland, on Friday.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates acknowledged Friday that the United States is facing a "very tough test" in fighting to oust the Taliban in Afghanistan.

“But I’m sure we will rise to the occasion the way we have many times before,” he told a news conference in Krakow, Poland, where NATO defense ministers are meeting. Gates said the United States hopes other nations involved in Afghanistan will contribute to the anti-Taliban campaign any way they can. “If other countries are unable to strengthen their military commitment, but they are willing to make a contribution on the stability side — on the development, governance side — those contributions would be very welcome,” he said. There is a U.S. review under way to determine the best strategies for success in Afghanistan and how other nations can help, he noted. See an update of the Afghanistan situation » This week’s meeting is a prelude to the meeting of NATO nations’ heads of state in April — the 60th anniversary of the alliance.

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Gates was asked about Friday’s signing by Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev of a bill that gives the U.S. military 180 days to withdraw from Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan, which the United States uses as a route into Afghanistan for troops and supplies. “I continue to believe that this is not a closed issue, and that there remains the potential at least to reopen this issue with the Kyrgyz and perhaps reach a new agreement,” Gates said. “If we are unable to do that on reasonable terms, then as I have suggested, we are developing alternative methods to get resupply and people into Afghanistan.”

Manas Air Base outside Bishkek is the Americans’ only base in Central Asia. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, two other Central Asian nations that border Afghanistan, have agreed to allow U.S. cargo to be transported to Afghanistan through their countries, Interfax reported Friday. Gates said the Obama administration hasn’t looked comprehensively at its policies with Russia, but he repeated what Vice President Joe Biden has said — that the administration feels it’s “time to reset” the relationship.