Gates begins farewell visits with troops

By ROBERT BURNS | June 5, 2011 | 2:32 AM EDT

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is greeted upon his arrival in Kabul by U.S. General David Petraeus, left, Commander of International Forces in Afghanistan, Saturday June 4, 2011. Making his farewell trip to Afghanistan as U.S. defense secretary, Robert Gates said Saturday that success of the U.S. mission here is paramount and that the "most costly thing of all would be to fail." Gates, who is retiring at the end of the month, flew to Afghanistan in an unannounced visit to say farewell to U.S. troops and Afghan leaders. (AP Photo//Jason Reed, Pool)

FORWARD OPERATING BASE WALTON, Afghanistan (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is beginning two days of farewell visits to remote U.S. troop bases in Afghanistan.

He began by flying Sunday morning to a base near Kandahar City in southern Afghanistan, where he was greeting soldiers and having lunch with junior enlisted troops.

Gates, who is retiring June 30, is assessing the situation ahead of a presidential decision within weeks on the start of a U.S. troop withdrawal this summer.