DoD Press Briefing with Secretary Gates And President Hamid Karzai from Kabul, Afghanistan
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Ladies and gentlemen, it's a great pleasure for me today to welcome here in Afghanistan Secretary Gates, with very good messages for Afghanistan and for -- (inaudible) -- of the National Army of Afghanistan and the national police of Afghanistan. We are grateful for the United States for having given us tremendous resources in billions of dollars just a few days ago from the people of Congress to strengthen our security forces, and particular attention on the army, and specifically, very particular attention on the police force of Afghanistan.
Secretary Gates and I engaged in discussions on various aspects of improving -- (inaudible) -- Afghanistan, improving the security situation in Afghanistan; the region and our concerns with regard to some of the recent activities in Afghanistan. I am confident that with the support that the United States keeps providing to Afghanistan, Afghanistan's institutions will be strong, reliable, and standing also on our own feet in a few years of time. Afghanistan will continue to be a partner of the United States. Afghanistan will continue to be very, very grateful to the American people for liberating us, not only liberation from terrorism, but for getting us into a prosperous, proper economy with strong democratic institutions.
Welcome, Secretary Gates.
SEC. GATES: Thank you, Mr. President. It's a pleasure to be back in Afghanistan. I had a very good conversation with the president this morning on the progress that he just described. I've also had the opportunity to talk in-depth with our ambassador; with the NATO commander, General McNeill; with the OEF commander, General Rodriguez and others, about the progress of training and equipping here in Afghanistan. I had the opportunity to visit a commando training site this morning, Afghan commando training. We talked a good bit about specific action on economic development and reconstruction.
I took a little time to share with President Karzai some of the international discussions that I've been involved in with respect to support of Afghanistan, beginning with a meeting in Quebec, Canada, of the defense ministers of RC-South nations, hosted by the Canadians; conversations that were held at the Shangri-La conference in Singapore among defense ministers on further support for Afghanistan and extending that support, and other activities that have been going on to try and strengthen international support for this government and the things that are going forward.
I would say, in contrast to my visit in January where I was concerned, and one of the reasons for my trip then was a concern that the Taliban were planning a significant offensive this spring. I believe that based on everything I've seen and everything I've heard, that the spring offensive has been an Afghan-alliance offensive that has put the Taliban off their game and, I think, has been an important success this spring. And the key is to sustain that.
We talked about coordination of civic actions. And I talked with the ambassador and others about how we might better coordinate the civic side of this from the international standpoint. I think there are some opportunities we may have ahead.
So I'm very happy with the visit. I'm looking forward to this afternoon's activities, and I'm very happy to be back in Afghanistan again. Thank you again for your hospitality.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Questions?
Q Thank you, sir. My question is for President Karzai.
Mr. President, do you believe -- (inaudible) -- that the United States should change its tactics in the fight against the Taliban and reduce the use of airstrikes that have killed so many innocent civilians here in your country and led to protests and calls for your resignation?
PRESIDENT KARZAI: The toll on our civilian casualties has been something that the United States, the rest of the coalition, and the Afghan government have been -- (inaudible) -- discussing and trying to find ways of reducing and -- (inaudible) – the violence for the last four years. It's not a new discussion; it's not a new issue. This is news that we have been engaged in violence for so many years?
It is the desire of the Afghan people, it is the desire of the international community, to defeat terrorism. While we are at war against terrorism, it's also important the international community, the Afghan government and the Afghan people to do it in a manner that would not cause civilian casualties.
So yes, it is an important subject on our minds, something that we discuss very, very often. And I can relate to you a number of stories of me and the -- (inaudible) -- on this, and of the international partners, in particular the United States, having been very understanding with us on this question. We have appointed a commission some time back, headed by the minister of defense, to work on modalities of how to engage in combat and how specifically we can avoid civilian casualties. This concern is shared with us by the United States.
SEC. GATES: I would just like to add this -- and I agree with everything the president has said -- avoiding civilian casualties is very important in terms of winning the loyalty and the support of local populations. At the same time, I think it's important to stress, as the NATO secretary-general did in his meeting -- his press conference with President Bush in Texas, that we not forget that the Taliban is deliberately putting civilians in harm's way. They deliberately mingle civilians with them and deliberately put civilians up front. They are the ones that murder schoolteachers and so on. So we must be more careful. At the same time, it's important to realize that the Taliban are actually the ones that often create the opportunity for the risk to civilians posed by military operations.
Q (Off mike) -- Secretary of Defense; five years down the line do you think the fight against Taliban is winnable? And is it a short-term or long-term effort?
SEC. GATES: I absolutely think that this is a winnable fight. I think there has been real progress. I think the fact that something like 42 nations are involved in this coalition to support the Afghan government, to strengthen the national support for the Afghan government, to defend this country against the Taliban trying to come back, it is winnable. It is also a long-term undertaking, and I'm confident that the United States and our partners in the alliance will be here for as long as it takes to ensure their freedom.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Something we often -- (inaudible) -- the war against the Taliban, against terrorism, against al Qaeda has been won. They were ruling Afghanistan five years ago. They were exporting terrorism from here to the rest of the world five years ago. Afghanistan was under this reign and control. They were using the institutions that bring peace -- engineering, medical sciences and schools, they were manufacturing terrorist activity. They were defeated in a month and a half in 2001 when the international community joined hands with Afghan people. The continuation of the struggle is to remove them as terrorist cells hiding from the law to completely -- (inaudible). So the war has been won. It's the finish touch that we're dealing with now.
SEC. GATES: The president expressed it better than I did. (Laughter.)
PRESIDENT KARZAI: One last question. The gentleman needs to be given a chance. Yes, go ahead.
Q (Through interpreter) The question actually goes to Mr. Secretary. There are recent reports of Iran supporting the insurgency in Afghanistan. What are your latest findings and how concerned you are?
SEC. GATES: The president and I discussed this this morning. There have been indications over the past few months of weapons coming in from Iran. We do not have any information about whether the government of Iran is supporting this, is behind it, or whether it's smuggling or exactly what's behind this, but there clearly is evidence that some weapons are coming into Afghanistan destined for the Taliban, but perhaps also for criminal elements involved in the drug trafficking coming from Iran.
We're watching it very carefully, and we will be staying in very close touch with them.
Q (Off mike.)
PRESIDENT KARZAI: (inaudible) the next few months-- (inaudible) -- more or less than what would be doing a few months after the-- (inaudible). This is going to be a time-consuming exercise -- (inaudible) – civilians, schools, reconstruction, and also in the regional context with our neighbors in working out commitments-- (inaudible) -- of terrorism that would deny them sanctuaries, training, places to hide in the region. So it’s going to be a total activity of denying them the chance to -- (inaudible) -- and also of denying them the facilities to wage their -- (inaudible). Thank you.
Q A quick follow-up, the previous question about Iran, can I ask you directly? Do you believe that Iran is directly supporting the Taliban?
PRESIDENT KARZAI: We don't have any such evidence so far of involvement of the Iranian government in the supplying the Taliban.
We have a very good relationship with the Iranian government. Iran and Afghanistan have never been as friendly as they are today. In the past five years, Iran has been contributing to Afghanistan reconstruction. And in the past five years, Afghanistan have been Iran's very close friend. And it has been possible for Afghanistan to be so close to Iran because of -- (inaudible) -- international community, especially the United States, understood and supported this relationship, and because also Iran understood and supported our relationship and -- (inaudible).
Therefore, it is in the interest of our brothers in Iran to have a stable, prospering Afghanistan. Five years ago, Afghanistan was ruled by those who called themselves the enemies of Iran, who -- (inaudible). Five years ago, Iran's trade with Afghanistan was less than $10 million. Today it reaches half a billion dollars. Therefore, there is no reason that any of our neighbors should engage in supporting the Taliban or provide support to any other enemies.
Afghanistan today is good news for our neighbors, and I hope this good news for them will continue by engaging constructively with each other. And that is our -- (inaudible).