KABUL - Defense Secretary Robert Gates, wrapping up a final visit to Afghanistan as Pentagon chief, said Tuesday that US-led forces were on the verge of securing a "decisive blow" against the Taliban.
"I leave Afghanistan today [Tuesday] with the belief that if we keep this momentum up, we will deliver a decisive blow to the enemy and turn the corner on this conflict. And if we do, it will be because of the service and sacrifice of all of you," Gates told coalition officers in Kabul before departing for a NATO meeting in Brussels.
During a four-day trip that took him to American bases in the south and east, Gates offered a cautiously optimistic forecast for the war effort, saying that now is not the time to ease up on the Taliban-led insurgency.
Gates' farewell remarks reflected his view that a troop surge in the nine-year war was beginning to bear fruit and that a withdrawal, set to start in July, should proceed at a cautious pace.
Meanwhile, Afghan officials were asking the UN Security Council to lift sanctions against some 50 Taliban figures, a senior diplomat said Tuesday, amid moves toward reconciliation.
The Security Council's Al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctions committee is expected to decide whether to remove the names by the middle of this month.
Western officials in Kabul said they were trying to set up communication channels with Taliban leaders but stressed that those efforts were at a very early stage. (Agencies)