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Gates: U.S. won't 'be fighting this fight' in Afghanistan indefinitely

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Petraeus greets Gates in Afghanistan
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Gates says American troops will eventually leave Afghanistan
  • NEW: Transition to Afghan security control will begin next year, he says
  • NEW: Karzai says parliamentary candidate wounded in airstrike

Check out the latest developments in the Afghan conflict in the Afghanistan Crossroads blog.

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The American people need to know that American troops will not still be fighting in Afghanistan in 2025, Pentagon chief Robert Gates said, but the United States' relationship with that country will be a long-term one.

Gates and Afghan President Hamid Karzai spoke after the two met Thursday.

"Americans will still be here after July 2011," the defense secretary said. "The president has been very clear that that is the beginning of a process, and the pace will be determined by conditions on the ground in Afghanistan."

But, he said, "the American people need to know we are not still going to be fighting this fight 15 years from now."

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"That said, the reality is we are looking at a long-term relationship with Afghanistan, and we have the confidence that the progress we are making jointly with our Afghan partners and our other allies will allow us to begin a transition to Afghan security control within the next year."

Karzai, he said, has indicated he believes his country will be ready to accept full security control in 2014.

"We learned our lesson in turning our back on Afghanistan ion 1989 and we have no intention of doing it again," he said, referring to the support the United States provided Afghans during their lengthy battle with Russian troops -- that disappeared when Russia withdrew.

Gates' visit came on the same day that a NATO airstrike killed 10 people in the country's northeast. A provincial official said those killed were parliamentary campaign workers, but NATO and U.S. officials said the precision airstrike targeted a senior member of an insurgent group. NATO is investigating the incident.

Karzai has issued pointed criticism at the coalition for civilian casualties during warfare, including this latest incident, which comes a little more than two weeks ahead of the parliamentary elections.

"The reports that we get so far are 10 killed and three wounded in this operation," Karzai said in a joint appearance with Gates after their meeting.

He added that a parliamentary candidate was wounded in the attack and that an investigation was under way.

"I have limited knowledge of the strike at this point," Gates said. "I believe I can confirm that a very senior official of the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan was the target and was killed. This was an individual who was responsible for organizing attacks here in Kabul and in northern Afghanistan. This is the first I heard that civilians may have been killed, and we will certainly look into that."

Gates' trip comes a day after he visited Iraq, where he attended a change of command ceremony that marked the end of the U.S. combat mission there.

Karzai defended his government's decision to kick private security companies out of the country in four months.

"On the issue of the private security firms, the decision of the Afghan government is final and conclusive," he said.

"The presence of security firms is not only adding to the problems of corruption in Afghanistan, the problems of lawlessness in Afghanistan and lots of other affectations ... but they're also running a parallel structure to the Afghan government. We will not have an effective growth of Afghan security forces" with the private firms still operational.

"We cannot sustain them any more in our country, and I'm glad to say the U.S. backs this decision with us."

Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military man in Afghanistan, said initial approaches to some Taliban members as part of a reconciliation initiative have shown promise and could help in the effort to resolve the conflict there.

Petraeus, who heads the U.S. and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, spoke to reporters after greeting Gates, who arrived in the war-torn country Thursday to consult with political and military officials.

Petraeus said there have already been approaches toward Taliban officials at senior levels that hold some promise. This comes amid discussions about reaching out to some Taliban members as part of a reconciliation process, but the military isn't envisioning peace talks with hard-liners.

Petraeus also addressed a number of other issues, such as the community police plan, which he described as basically "community watch with AK-47s, under a Ministry of Interior chain of command" so there aren't concerns about warlords or militias.

"This will not be Sons of Iraq in Afghanistan," he said, referring to anti-al Qaeda Sunni groups in Iraq.

He also said that since the departure earlier this summer of Gen. Stanley McChrystal -- who was forced to step down after he made controversial comments about members of the Obama administration in a magazine article -- there has been "a change in personnel, not in overall concept" in the Afghan mission.

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