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By Kent Klein
Washington
03 December 2008

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says a new strategy for fighting Islamic extremists in Afghanistan will be a high priority for the administration of President-elect Barack Obama. Gates, who has served as Defense secretary under President George Bush, has been chosen by Mr. Obama to remain in the post. VOA's Kent Klein reports from Washington.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates holds a press briefing at the Pentagon, 2 Dec. 2008
Defense Secretary Robert Gates holds a press briefing at the Pentagon, 2 Dec. 2008
Secretary Gates told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday that one of his first priorities in the new administration, which begins on January 20, will be to re-evaluate U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.   

"It is very important for us to do everything we can to make sure that the Afghans understand this is their fight, and they have to be out front in this fight," he said. "That is why I am such a strong supporter of accelerating the expansion of the Afghan army."

The Bush administration is reviewing the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, and the Obama administration is expected to do the same.

Gates said U.S. officials are greatly concerned about terrorist safe havens on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, which Mr. Obama has called the number one threat to the security of Americans. Gates said the United States and Afghanistan will increase their efforts to close safe havens on the Afghan side of the border, and he said Washington will emphasize a similar partnership with Pakistan's government to shut down the enclaves on its side.

"We are prepared to move as quickly as the Pakistanis are," he said. "I know they are uneasy about the American footprint in Pakistan, and I think we have to be sensitive to their political concerns. At the same time, we cannot do this on our own."

Soldiers in a Humvee patrol the perimeter of the Camp Delta detention compound, at Guantanamo Bay's US Naval Base, in Cuba, 06 Jun 2008
Soldiers in a Humvee patrol the perimeter of the Camp Delta detention compound, at Guantanamo Bay's US Naval Base, in Cuba, 06 Jun 2008
Secretary Gates also said another high priority will be to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba, where more than 250 detainees suspected of terrorism are being held. Gates said closing the controversial facility will require help from Capitol Hill.
 
"I think it is possible to close it," he said. "I think it does require a joint effort with the Congress. I think some legislation probably is needed as a part of it. I think trying to move forward on that, at least from my standpoint, should be a high priority."

The defense secretary commended India for its restraint in responding to last week's deadly attacks in Mumbai. He said the killings were clearly the act of an extremist group trying to target Americans and Britons. But he acknowledged that most of those who died were Indians.

Gates is the only Bush administration cabinet member who has been asked to stay on in the Obama administration.
 

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