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Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz Press Briefing with Afghan Foreign Minister

Presenter: Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
July 15, 2002

(Press briefing with Afghan Foreign Minister Dr. Abdullah, Presidential Palace, Kabul)

Wolfowitz: We are going to leave shortly for Mazar-e-Sharif. We've had a very full schedule, slightly more than half a day, but it seems like a couple of days already. I've had very excellent, useful briefings by General McNeill and other people here with Operation Enduring Freedom. And then, a very interesting visit to a place where we're working on training battalions of the new Afghan National Army. Then, we went to meet with General Zorlu, the Turkish Commander of the International Security Assistance Force, which continues to do outstanding work here in Afghanistan. And we just concluded a very excellent hour-and-a-half of discussions with President Karzai and Foreign Minister Abdullah, Defense Minister Fahim and other members of the Cabinet. Our discussions centered most of all, I believe it's fair to say, on the importance of training and developing the Afghan National Army. But in a sense, I would say more broadly, on the importance of strengthening those national institutions that can move Afghanistan forward, enable Afghanistan to overcome the wounds of 20 years of civil war -- and if I can put it also, from an American point of view -- that would keep Afghanistan from going back to being a sanctuary for terrorism. I was very encouraged by the attitudes, not only the President's, but also members of his cabinet, including the Foreign Minister who's here with me, but also Defense Minister Fahim. Mr. Minister, do you want to add to that?

Abdullah: Yes, I think you have articulated what we had in our discussions very well. I consider it very constructive, the discussions on the issue of the national security forces in Afghanistan-the National Army and the whole national vision of Afghanistan for today and tomorrow. There were areas, all agreement about different aspects of it. And today's discussions, I believe, will give it a push. As far as our efforts in Afghanistan, as well as the efforts of our friends in the United States -- in support of the formation of the National Army is concerned -- we hope that the upcoming days, in which we will have further consultations, will further enhance our efforts in those directions.

Q: How do you see the prospect of another incident like the shooting incident in Uruzgan happening again?

Wolfowitz: We very much regret any time that innocent people are killed, and all the evidence suggests that innocent people were killed there. And we deeply regret that. At the same time, we are still involved in difficult situations in this country where there are people who are responsible for terrorism, or terrorists themselves or people who are attacking our armed forces. When we're in a situation where we're in a combat zone, unfortunately, sometimes mistakes are made. General McNeill and his people are undertaking a thorough investigation of that incident in order to do everything we possibly can to prevent that kind of mistake in the future. I don't believe it can be prevented completely. But we have been doing everything we can to prevent it and we will try to do better.

Q: Despite the superiority of the U.S. forces, why are there still conflicts in this country? After Uruzgan, what can be done to prevent similar incidents?

Wolfowitz: There's no question that the United States has formidable military capabilities and I think we've demonstrated that. I think it probably came as a surprise to the terrorists that we were able to do as much as we did as quickly as we did to make this country a place that is inhospitable to terrorists. But there is a great deal that military power can't accomplish -- even the most substantial military power -- and the larger task of building security in this country is something that's going to require much more than just the efforts of the U.S. military. It requires strengthening Afghanistan's own national army, which was a major subject of our discussions with President Karzai. And frankly, it also involves, very importantly, the efforts at economic reconstruction because when people are employed, when people have hospitals, schools and roads, when people are prosperous, then security problems, I believe, will definitely decline. But it's not going to happen overnight. Afghanistan has suffered from 20 years of civil war, those damages are not repaired instantly. I think if one looks at what's been accomplished over the last 12 months, it's truly remarkable.

Q: There are increasing reports of disenfranchised Pashtuns. Any comment?

Wolfowitz: Well, there's a Pashtun president, I think that's rather significant. I believe that there are very important ways that Pashtuns are represented in this government. Definitely, as we go about training the Afghan National Army, we're very intent on trying to make sure that ethnic balance is adequately represented. I'm not surprised to hear reports of people being dissatisfied. There's a kind of expectation that now the Taliban are gone, everything will become better all of a sudden. It's not going to happen that quickly. As I said a few minutes ago, I believe there has been extraordinary progress measured, whether over the last 12 months or the last 6 months, and I think that progress will continue.

Abdullah: And also, there's a problem of perception. Whatever happens in Afghanistan is automatically being interpreted in the ethnic lines, which is not necessarily the main issue. The main issue is that Afghanistan has chosen its destiny, and the destiny is to giving the Afghan people the right of self-determination and the Loya Jirga was the clear example or exercise of it. If you're talking about resentment of the people who were supportive of the Taliban, these groups who were supporting al Qaeda or the Taliban, it has nothing to do with one ethnicity. It comes from different corners. And also, this is not a national issue. The support for al Qaeda was voiced from other corners of the world as well. If you're talking about the situation in Afghanistan, there were representatives (who) were elected throughout the country in Pashtun and non-Pashtun dominated areas, and more or less, I would not say, compare it to polling in the United States or anywhere else, but as far as possible, it was supervised by the international community. The election process was democratic, to a large extent. The meeting itself was, despite some shortcomings, it was a democratic one. And the part which was taken today, the creation of the national army, the framework. The whole change cannot take place overnight. The people of Afghanistan do not expect this. Some of the so-called experts on Afghanistan only know that there are different ethnic groups in Afghanistan and there have to be problems between them all the time, and I don't think that's the constructive way of dealing with this issue. When there are real concerns which have to be addressed, whether it is ethnically-related or politically-oriented, or whatever it is, or in our national interest.

Q: Pashtuns have had very significant blows recently with the Uruzgan incident and the assassination of Vice-President Qadir in approximately 10-day period.

Abdullah: If you'll remember, there was an attempt against General Fahim in Jalalabad, in which Haji Qadir was with him. And both survived that attempt. Had that attempt succeeded, would our analysis have been, 'it was a Pashtun against a non-Pashtun?' No, it was al Qaeda or a force which is against stability. Haji Qadir was a very dear friend, I find. Perhaps, in this government, I am the person who could claim he was the closest friend to me. When he was assassinated here, of course, it was by the enemies of peace; of course, it was by the enemies of stability. It might be al Qaeda or Taliban mixed in it. There might be an issue of the war against drug cultivation and the whole thing. But whatever it is, Haji Qadir, was a principal supporter of this process, and his contributions during the Loya Jirga were eminent throughout the Loya Jirga, and the enemies have chosen him as a target.

Why should this be considered as a blow against the Pashtuns? His loss is a big loss for the country. When he voted for Qasimyar as the President of the Loya Jirga, Qasimyar is ethnically, Farsi-speaking, he's Hazara, and religiously, he's from the Shiite minority. He wanted to show that (unintelligible) has broken in Afghanistan, and he was appreciated for that. When such a figure is taken from us, unfortunately, in a tragic incident, once again this is a blow to the country, to our nation. Yes, this is a setback but the investigation continues, and the enemies will not succeed in the final vote. They might succeed in taking out some of the figures. But, if their goal is to destroy Afghanistan once again and take it back, there they will not succeed.

Q: Some governors have demanded more say in the role of the U.S. military actions. Are you and other Afghan officials on the same page on the role of the U.S. military here?

Abdullah: Mr. Wolfowitz mentioned before that General McNeill will continue the job of a thorough investigation, this is what was needed. This was a demand of the Afghans, as well as by the authorities, and the United States had made it clear right from the beginning that a thorough investigation would be conducted. Perhaps, different views are expressed in different parts of the country, an Afghan individual here and there may see it differently, but we're satisfied by the measures that have been taken so far. And we're also aware of the fact that one cannot prevent incidents in a war in a 100 percent manner. That's what we're aware of.

Q: How concerned are you that the governors are creating their own forces to fight al Qaeda?

Wolfowitz: There are lots of local forces in this country. The reason we are so interested in developing and strengthening the Afghan National Army is so that over time, it can be the central government -- the duly-elected authorities in this country -- who make the decision and have the ability to enforce those decisions.

Q: Why isn't the United States supporting the build up of ISAF until the Army becomes established?

Wolfowitz: I'm glad at least you didn't say why is the United States opposed to the expansion of ISAF-we are not, as Secretary Rumsfeld has said many times. But let's go back some months. ISAF was brought to Kabul for a very important purpose that is unique to Kabul, that is, to make sure the capital of this country did not, once again, become the possession of one ethnic group or another ethnic group because it is commonly believed, and I'm not an expert, but I've heard it many, many times, that it is that that, in part, led to some of the tragedies that gave rise to the Taliban. So, I think, the ISAF has accomplished something very important, continues to accomplish something very important, and its mission here in Kabul is extremely important. And when the British said they were out after six months, and the Turks eventually agreed to take on the lead, Turkey did so on condition that the mission be confined to Kabul. Now, if there's a need somewhere else, if there are other countries that are willing to step forward to fill that need somewhere else, the United States is definitely not opposed. But we think we need to think these steps through very carefully, and think about what applies in each particular circumstance.

Q: Why has the U.S. failed to arrest bin Laden and Mullah Omar?

Wolfowitz: You know, there are many Americans who ask the same question. But I think Afghans should have a better appreciation. You know your country; you know what the terrain is like; you know how formidable it is up there along the Pakistani border. I think what's actually remarkable is how much the U.S. military was able to accomplish in a relatively short time. More generally, it is very important to understand that the problem of al Qaeda is not just the problem of one individual; it's not just the problem of Afghanistan. Al Qaeda was a network that burrowed into some 60 countries around the world. It had a headquarters here in Afghanistan, but it had headquarters in Germany, the United States, France and Morocco, and you don't take it down the way you might kill a poisonous snake by chopping off the head. It's more like an infection in the body; you have to go after the pockets of infection all over the place. So, yes, we'd very much like to bring Mr. bin Laden to justice if it hasn't happened already, and we don't know for sure. But our real goal is to end terrorism, and that requires going after the whole network.

Q: Do you think he's alive?

Q: (unintelligible)

Wolfowitz: We're here as an army of liberation, not an army of occupation. It's very important at the same time that we carry out our operations to capture or kill terrorists who threaten the United States. It's very important to us also, to do everything we can to work with Afghan authorities both at the national and local level to make sure that our operations are coordinated and that they proceed in a way that contributes to the long-term stability of this country. And when we make a mistake, or think we may have made a mistake, as in Uruzgan, we will try to track down, as thoroughly as we can, the causes of it and try to prevent it. I would point out that we have made mistakes in killing our own people or killing our coalition forces. It's a difficult job, dangerous circumstances. The people out there making judgments are doing their very best to make the best judgments they can. But no one can say the risk can be eliminated completely.

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