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Robert Gates Holds Stealth Meeting With U.S. General on Afghan War

Defense Secretary Robert Gates flew to Belgium over the weekend for a secret meeting with the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said, amid speculation the general may be seeking more U.S. forces for the war.

"Defense Secretary Robert Gates flew to Belgium over the weekend for a secret meeting with top U.S. commander in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal, seen here in June 2009, the Pentagon said, amid speculation the general may be seeking more U.S. forces for the war.i"

The meeting on Sunday was not publicly announced beforehand and Gates did not bring reporters with him as he usually does on foreign trips.

The Defense Department revealed that Gates met General Stanley McChrystal and other top officers at a U.S. air base in Belgium to get a progress report on an assessment of the Afghan war being prepared by the commander, which is due later this month.

"He wanted an opportunity to speak first hand with his commanders and his senior military advisors about how the assessment was unfolding so that he could gain as clear an understanding of the situation as possible," press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, accompanied Gates to the base in Chievres, where they met McChrystal, his deputy General David Rodriguez, NATO's supreme allied commander, Admiral James Stavridis, the head of Central Command, General David Petraeus, and Pentagon policy chief Michele Flournoy.

Gates has regular video conferences with his commanders in Afghanistan every other week but wanted to meet in person without interruptions to learn about the state of McChrystal's 60-day review of strategy, Morrell said.

The meeting comes after a number of civilian experts advising McChrystal on his assessment publicly called for a major increase in U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Morrell declined to discuss what details were addressed at the meeting and said McChrystal's assessment was by no means complete.

He said comments by some civilian analysts who served on an advisory board for McChrystal were not the reason Gates chose to hold the unusual meeting.

"Everybody has this sense that this is wrapped up and ready to go and that they're just waiting to tie a bow on it and send it our way. I think this meeting speaks to the fact that this is still a work in progress," Morrell said.

"And the secretary wanted to get a sense of where it was headed, so that he can begin to inform his thinking and prepare for the likely assessment that will be made in the coming weeks," he added.

President Barack Obama has ordered the deployment of an additional 21,000 troops in Afghanistan, with the level of U.S. forces due to reach 68,000 later this year.

Gates has warned against creating too large a U.S. military "footprint" in Afghanistan that could sow resentment.

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