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In Afghanistan, Gates Emphasizes Plan to End Combat Operations by 2014

Defense Secretary Robert Gates speaks during a joint news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai Monday at the Presidential Palace in Kabul. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Kabul for talks with U.S. military commanders and Afghan president Hamid Karzai, to whom he apologized for the accidental deaths of children during a NATO air strike last week. Karzai had previously rejected Gen. David Petraeus’ apology for the attack that killed nine boys, all younger than 12.

Answering reporters’ questions Monday, he emphasized that the U.S. plans to conclude combat operations in the country by 2014 and does not want to set up permanent bases in the country, although the U.S. has said that troops may remain in training and advisory roles. He told troops at Bagram Airfield that he believed Afghan officials “are interested in having us do that.”

Regarding the fight against insurgents, Gates told the troops, “I know you’ve had a tough winter, and it’s going to be a tougher spring and summer, but you’ve made a lot of headway.” Springtime usually brings with it a marked uptick in violence and as Taliban forces launch offensives as Afghanistan’s harsh winter recedes.

During the first day of his two-day visit, Gates also met with soldiers at a combat hospital who had been wounded in a roadside bomb.

Gates, who has said he will retire later this year, has made 13 visits to Afghanistan.

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