WASHINGTON – U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday it was too early to set a date for the eventual withdrawal of international troops from Afghanistan.
"We would all like to have a situation in which our mission in Afghanistan has been completed and we can bring our troops home. I do not see that happening anytime in the near future," Gates told a news conference with his French counterpart, Herve Morin.
"I think it's impossible to put a date on when you might firmly say all the troops are coming out," Gates said.
The defense chief said a review of US strategy now underway was examining the goals of the Afghan mission and how progress towards those objectives could be measured.
"And I think we will have a much better idea of the way forward, at least as far as the United States is concerned, when that review is complete," Gates said.
About 38,000 US troops are stationed in Afghanistan and President Barack Obama has approved the deployment of additional 17,000 troops to bolster the fight against Taliban insurgents and associated groups.
Morin said that France shared the same view and that a strategy with clearly-defined objectives would demonstrate that international troops do not intend to stay "forever."
"We will stay as long as necessary," Morin said. "As the president of the Republic (Nicolas Sarkozy) said and as we all say, here, we do not want to stay forever."
France has more than 3,000 troops serving in Afghanistan.
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