To All ISAF Personnel:
This is my fifth trip to Afghanistan, but my first trip as the United States Secretary of Defense. Over the course of my visit, I look forward to meeting many of you and seeing the extraordinary work that you are accomplishing every day. Whether you are in combat, logistics, medical support or intelligence, whether you are working in a headquarters or going out on patrol, whether you are on the ground or in the air, your contributions to the fight are invaluable.
What you are doing here in Afghanistan will help ensure that al Qaeda does not re-establish the safe haven they had before September 11, 2001. You are working under stressful and difficult conditions, and you have my profound gratitude, and the gratitude of the American people, for your service and your sacrifices. You have my full support, and I will do everything I possibly can to help you succeed and come home safely to your families. I have no higher priority as Secretary of Defense than your safety, success, and welfare.
I believe that we are at a very important moment in this campaign, with the Afghan National Security Forces on the verge of stepping into the lead for all combat operations across the country. As the 2013 fighting season gets underway, the ANSF will be doing more and more of the fighting, and relying on you for support, training, and advice. The choices you make on the battlefield, the professionalism and honor you carry forward, and the relationships and trust you build with our Afghan partners are all essential to the success of this campaign.
Even as we move into more of a support role, this remains a dangerous and difficult mission. We are still at war, and many of you will continue to experience the ugly reality of combat and the heat of battle. But the goal we have established – to have Afghans assume full responsibility for security by the end of 2014 – is clear and achievable.
So as I begin my time as Secretary of Defense, I look forward to hearing from you, seeing this war from your vantage point, and working to make sure you get what you need to finish the fight and come home safe. This is a decisive time – and with your continued professionalism, dedication and sacrifice, I believe we can make history and help forge a more peaceful future for the people of Afghanistan, for the region, and – in turn – for the world.