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U.S. Defense Chief Sees Progress In Tour Of Afghan South

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates speaks with troops from the 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, as he visits Forward Operation Base Camp Nathan Smith outside Kandahar.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he saw and heard evidence that the U.S. counterinsurgency strategy is taking hold in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar Province.

Gates met U.S. troops fighting the Taliban in the Islamic militia's heartland.

Speaking to reporters traveling with him, he said, "I come away from my visits down here today encouraged." But he added, "Everybody knows this is far from a done deal."

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Gates wanted to get a close-up look at efforts by U.S. and NATO troops to rout insurgents from their strongholds and bolster governance.

NATO troops -- and especially U.S. forces -- have been losing record numbers of soldiers in the fight against the Taliban in recent months. According to an AFP casualties count, 326 U.S. soldiers have been killed this year, out of a coalition total of 493.

On the first day of his visit to Afghanistan on September 2, Gates met with President Hamid Karzai and General David Petraeus, the top commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

compiled from agency reports