KABUL -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates has told a group of Afghan soldiers that the U.S. will be their partner for a long time despite plans to begin pulling troops out in 2011.
Addressing a crowd of Afghan troops at Kabul airport, Gates said the U.S. looks forward to the day the Afghans can take control of their country but "we will have a large number of forces here for some period beyond that."
He said the U.S. relationship with Afghanistan is "forged in blood" and said the U.S. "will see it to the end."
Afghan officials thanked Gates and said it was a relief to hear the U.S. would not abandon them in 18 months.
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