Trip Stresses Long-term Support for Afghanistan, Official Says
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 1, 2012 President Barack Obama traveled to Afghanistan to sign the strategic partnership agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and to reinforce the level of American commitment to the country, a senior administration official traveling with him said today.
U.S. President Barack Obama interacts with troops on Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, May 2, 2012. Obama made a surprise visit to the air base, where he announced that he signed a strategic partnership agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai detailing the relationship between the United States and Afghanistan as the war there nears an end. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Roland Hale
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
A senior administration official speaking on background from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan told reporters in a conference call that U.S. government officials negotiated with their Afghan colleagues for 20 months to hammer out the agreement. Both presidents had a goal of signing the agreement before the NATO summit in Chicago later this month, the official added.
The agreement governs the relationship between the two countries after the last U.S. combat troops leave Afghanistan at the end of 2014.
“The agreement details how the partnership will be normalized as the war draws to a responsible end,” the official said. “Just as we did in Iraq, we’re focused on building an enduring partnership with Afghanistan that strengthens Afghan sovereignty, stability and prosperity, while advancing our shared goals of defeating al-Qaida and contributing to the security of the region.”
The agreement, he noted, comes on the heels of strong progress toward U.S. goals in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden is dead, killed exactly a year ago. Coalition, and increasingly, Afghan forces are taking the fight to the enemy.
“We believe that we have put al-Qaida on the path to defeat, and the effort today helps ensure the long-term security of Afghanistan,” the official said.
The president’s plan to responsibly end the war in Afghanistan and build a long-term relationship with the country has five elements, the official said:
-- To transition to Afghan lead by the end of 2014;
-- To train Afghan security forces to provide for the security of Afghanistan;
-- To build an enduring partnership with Afghanistan;
-- To pursue reconciliation in Afghanistan; and
-- To promote regional security.
The transition to Afghan control already is under way, the official pointed out, and half the Afghan people live in areas where Afghan security forces are in the lead or moving into the lead.
“At the Chicago summit, the coalition will set the goal to have Afghan forces in the lead across the country by next year,” the official said. U.S. and coalition forces will train and assist the Afghans, but will step into a combat role only if needed, he added.
U.S. and coalition forces are training Afghans to get the job done. This year, those forces will reach 352,000 Afghan soldiers and police, and the Afghans will sustain that level for a number of years. In Chicago, NATO and its allies and the Afghans will examine the long-term number of troops and police.
The strategic partnership agreement lets the Afghans know that the United States will support them for 10 years after the last American troops leave the country, the official said. “We will continue to work with the Afghans to determine our level of support for their security forces,” said he added.
The coalition is pursuing Afghan-led reconciliation, the official told reporters. Afghan and U.S. leaders tell the Taliban that they can be part of a democratic Afghanistan if they break with al-Qaida and support the Afghan constitution, he said. There has been some success in reconciliation, he added, but those who refuse this reconciliation know they have to contend with strong Afghan security forces, backed by the United States and its allies.”
Pakistan can be an equal partner in building an international consensus for the region, the official said. “We have made it clear that the United States has no designs beyond the defeat of al-Qaida and respect for Afghan sovereignty,” he said.
Beyond 2014, the U.S. will be focused on two narrow missions: counterterrorism efforts, if it’s necessary to target al-Qaida, – and continued training of Afghan security forces inside Afghanistan, the official said.