The military's top priority is to defeat Al Qaeda and other extremists, but winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan alone will not achieve that, Defense Secretary Robert Gates says in a new defense policy document.

Nor will the use of force alone accomplish the mission, says the 2008 National Defense Strategy released Thursday by the Pentagon. The most important thing the military can do, it said, is prepare friends and allied nations to defend and govern themselves.

"For the foreseeable future, winning the 'Long War' against violent extremist movements will be the central objective of the U.S.," the strategy paper said, adding that Iraq and Afghanistan "remain the central fronts in the struggle."

But, it added that the U.S. "cannot lose sight of the implications of fighting a long-term, episodic, multi-front, and multidimensional conflict more complex and diverse than the Cold War confrontation with communism."

The 23-page document asserted: "Success in Iraq and Afghanistan is crucial to winning this conflict, but it alone will not bring victory."

The document said the use of force plays a role but perhaps not the most important one.

"Military efforts to capture or kill terrorists are likely to be subordinate to measures to promote local participation in government and economic programs to spur development, as well as efforts to understand and address the grievances that often lie at the heart of insurgencies," the document said. "For these reasons, arguably the most important military component of the struggle against violent extremists is not the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we help prepare our partners to defend and govern themselves."

Gates noted in the forward to the policy paper that the United States soon will elect a new president, but said the complex issues will remain and that the new strategy will be "a blueprint to succeed in the years to come."