TOPICS > World

Gates Reaffirms Afghan War Commitment in Face of Waning Public Support

BY Larisa Epatko  September 3, 2009 at 3:50 PM EDT

Defense Secretary Robert Gates; Photo courtesy of Defense Department

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday challenged the notion that the Obama administration is losing control in Afghanistan, despite several recent polls that show flagging public support for the war.

“I don’t believe that the war is slipping through the administration’s fingers,” Gates said at a Pentagon news conference, according to the Associated Press. “The nation has been at war for eight years. The fact that Americans would be tired of having their sons and daughters at risk and in battle is not surprising.”

Some public opinion polls have shown Americans expressing declining support for the idea of sending more troops to Afghanistan and falling confidence in how operations are going.

Gates also argued that President Barack Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan hasn’t even been given a chance to work.

“I think what is important to remember is the president’s decisions on this strategy were only made at the very end of March; our new commander appeared on the scene in June,” Gates said, adding that the extra troops Obama ordered are not even all there yet, nor is the “civilian surge” he wants on hand to help, the AP reported.

“So we are only now beginning to be in a position to have the assets in place and the strategy or the military approach in place to begin to implement the strategy,” he said.

U.S. and NATO Commander in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal delivered a classified assessment of the war on Monday and he is expected to ask for more troops and funding in the coming weeks.

Gates said Thursday he would be open to any new requests for more troops and resources.

“I’m very open to the recommendations and certainly the perspective of General McChrystal,” said Gates, Reuters reported.

He added that concerns over the conflict can be “mitigated” if the additional U.S. forces “interact with the Afghans in a way that give confidence to the Afghans that we’re partners and their allies.”

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen also told reporters that the Pentagon understands there is a “sense of urgency” in Afghanistan and that “time is not on our side,” according to Reuters.