Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Gates to focus on Afghan war at NATO talks

Updated at: 1556 PST, Tuesday, June 09, 2009

WASHINGTON: US Defense Secretary Robert Gates is set to depart for Europe for talks with NATO allies amid a concerted push by Washington to reverse the course of the seven-year-old war in Afghanistan.

The visit comes as thousands of American reinforcements pour into the fragile Asian nation in a bid by US President Barack Obama to gain the upper hand in a conflict that commanders say has turned into a stalemate.

Gates is due to discuss the outlook in volatile southern Afghanistan on Wednesday in Maastricht with North Atlantic Treaty Organization counterparts who have troops in the region. He then heads to Brussels on Thursday for a meeting of alliance defense ministers, the Pentagon said.

"They will discuss a range of organizational and security issues confronting the alliance, but, as you might expect, the NATO operations in Afghanistan will likely dominate their discussions," Defense Department press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters on Monday.

With the US force in Afghanistan due to double to about 68,000 by the end of the year, the American military presence -- combined with plans to send in US civilian experts -- will eclipse the 33,000 other foreign troops now stationed there.

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