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Gates in Afghanistan to evaluate war progress

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ROBERT BURNS | March 6, 2011 11:55 PM EST | AP


KABUL, Afghanistan — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is beginning a two-day visit with US troops, allied commanders and Afghan leaders to gauge war progress as the Obama administration moves toward crucial decisions on reducing troop levels.

Gates planned to travel to eastern and southern portions of Afghanistan, the areas most fiercely contested by the Taliban insurgency.

Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell told reporters flying with the Pentagon chief from Washington that Gates wants to get a first-hand feel for changes on the ground since he last was in Afghanistan in December.

The U.S. is committed to beginning a troop withdrawal in July. But the size and scope of the pullback will depend on the degree of progress toward handing off full control to the shaky Afghan government.