Gates Marks Successes in Afghanistan

: Brussels—Afghan security forces are significantly more capable today than one year ago, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters Thursday at NATO headquarters here. For example, a year ago, only about 35 percent of Afghans qualified in marksmanship upon completing basic training, he said. Today, that number is closer to 95 percent. “There has been a real change in the people coming out of training and we are doing a lot of specialized training,” said Gates after his final meeting with NATO defense ministers before he leaves office at month’s end. However, he cautioned the alliance to move in a “deliberate and organized manner” when the United States begins withdrawing some troops starting in July or else those successes could be at risk. NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen declined to say how many troops might be pulled out, but he said he was confident that the United States would make decisions based on the situation on the ground. He also attempted to ease concerns that a US troop withdrawal of any size this year would encourage NATO allies to hastily withdraw their own forces, saying NATO intends to remain in the fight as long as necessary.