KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) – US Defense Secretary Robert Gates met Friday with US soldiers at the “tip of the spear” in the Taliban’s Afghan heartland as a pivotal surge of 30,000 extra troops neared completion. Gates was set to spend the day in southern Kandahar province, one of the hottest spots of the intensifying war against the insurgents which is nearing the end of its ninth year. He arrived in Kabul on Thursday on an unannounced trip, fresh from presiding over ceremonies in Baghdad marking the formal end to US combat engagement there after seven years. His visit comes as international forces — and especially the Americans — are losing record numbers of soldiers in the fight to quell the Taliban-led insurgency that has spread its footprint across most of the country. Gates’ first stop Friday was at a small NATO base outside Kandahar city that has recently lost eight soldiers to insurgent violence. “You all are clearly on the frontline,” he told the 100 US troops deployed there, part of the 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, as they sat in a circle in front of their armoured vehicles. “This has been a very tough week for you all,” he…
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