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Gates, French minister agree on Afghan war surge strategy

By Larry Shaugnessy, CNN Pentagon Producer
  • Defense Secretary Gates meets with his French counterpart, Defense Minister Morin
  • France has nearly 4,000 troops in Afghanistan
  • They agree that the surge strategy appears to be working
  • But they disagree over the implications for troops of Quran burning

Washington (CNN) -- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said Thursday there are already indications the surge strategy in Afghanistan is working.

Speaking to reporters at a briefing with his French counterpart -- Defense Minister Herve Morin -- Gates said he is "cautious." He said there is some progress that will have to be sustained.

"I don't want to mislead anybody. This is a hard fight, there are many challenges ahead. We will lose more kids. But I think Gen. (David) Petraeus has the feeling we're on the right track," Gates said, referring to the top U.S. military commander in Afghanistan.

Morin, whose country has nearly 4,000 troops in the country, agreed with Gates.

"I've been in this position for three and a half years. I went to Afghanistan about a half-dozen times -- more than that, about a dozen times actually. I can see very, very visible improvements," Morin said.

But the two disagreed on the implications of the Florida pastor who threatened to burn the Quran. The U.S. military was vocal in saying burning Qurans would would trigger violence against U.S. troops overseas. Petraeus released a statement warning of the concern and Gates himself called the Florida pastor to convince him to cancel plans to burn Qurans.

Even before the scheduled burning, which was eventually canceled, there were violent protests in Kabul.

But the French defense minister said Thursday he thinks threats of Quran burning or bans on burqas -- the full-body covering worn by some Muslim women -- have little effect on the risk to troops in Afghanistan.

When asked about a new French law banning the wearing of burqas and its impact on French and other troops, Morin said through a translator, "The risks and threats are permanent and the level of threat and the risks in which they (troops) operate is very -- honestly, I don't think that things will be changed drastically."

Morin said his experience has been different. "On the law on burqas in France, we had no reaction from no Arab capital city showing any hostility concerning that."

"The provocation on what the pastor said in Florida. I don't think this will bring our troops to ... high risk because they are in high risk on a daily basis, anyway," Morin said..

And they seemed to see eye-to-eye on the approach to convincing Iran to give up its nuclear weapons plans. "Our discussion today was really about the fact that the sanctions have ended up being more effective and more severe than perhaps we might have expected, before the U.N. resolution was passed," Gates said.