PRES. KARZAI: (Translated.) In the name of God, merciful (inaudible) dear media members, ladies and gentlemen, it’s such a pleasure and honor to once again welcome a deeply respected personality and a friend, His Excellency Robert Gates, defense secretary of the United States.
I’m so sorry to report that (inaudible) in one month’s time, he will depart from the defense ministry and will continue his life. Secretary Gates is among the personalities, who in the past four and a half years, been in close and very direct contact with the people of Afghanistan, with the government of Afghanistan, and for years he has continued to treat to the fullest possible extent a friendliness and he has supported and he’s understood Afghanistan’s position, and he’s always had an understanding of the realities and the truth and the realities on the ground. And as far as we are aware, he was fully (inaudible) of Afghanistan in the U.S. administration. He was always backing our position and our expectations.
Throughout these years he has done a great deal in helping equip and train Afghanistan’s security forces. It was during his term as the defense secretary where Afghanistan security forces received most of the attention. And today, I repeat that due to the support and the assistance he has given to the Afghanistan security forces and our defense ministry and due to the respect that he has to the people of Afghanistan and due to the very friendly intention that he has towards the people of Afghanistan. And if I may tell you a secret – he has said the people (inaudible) the U.S. and the government to listen to the people of Afghanistan to listen to the government of Afghanistan.
So, based on all these services and all these, we are happy to have (inaudible) a state medal to (inaudible) continued success even when he is out of the defense ministry. And I hope that he would continue to promote Afghanistan’s position when he’s outside the Defense Department. And I would hope that he would continue to help us in our difficult struggle.
Today, we had detailed discussions and conversations with his excellency and his accompanying delegation on the war on terror, on the situation in Afghanistan and in the region. And, again, with his excellency we took up the issue of the civilian casualties and on behalf of the people of Afghanistan we humbly asked and suggested to his excellency that the bombardments and the raids over the Afghan houses not be repeated.
And while are the partners and we are allies in the war, the people of Afghanistan do not wish and want to see their houses being bombarded and the civilians being killed and innocent lives being lost. And on the night house searches, night raids and detentions and arrests, we also had discussions about the detentions and the house searches.
We spoke on the joint commission or committee that exists to talk about how to take forward the issues. So we hope that we could soon reach to a conclusion and to a discussion. But, again, on the issue of the bombarding of the Afghan houses, we conveyed the concern of the Afghan people to the U.S. administration and to the U.S. Defense Department. This is people’s expectation and demand.
We also talked about the strategic agreement between – the partnership agreement between Afghanistan and the United States. We see that agreement for the benefit of the country on which we are now in discussion and we have expressed our views and our proposals and we hope that we could interact further on the details of the agreement so an agreement could finally be reached where the interests of both countries could be served.
And I also thanked his excellency for the U.S. assistance and cooperation for the education, for health, for the road buildings, and for the strengthening of the Afghan institutions. I once again on behalf of the people of Afghanistan, I thank his excellency. And through him, U.S. government and U.S. public for all they have done to Afghanistan. We appreciate all which you’ve done and we hope that the civilian casualties, again, not be repeated.
And I once again welcome you, your excellency, to Afghanistan, to Kabul. And it is such a pleasure to see you again. And I hope you accept the State Medal of Honor that we awarded to you for the two services you’ve done. And I hope that this should not be the last visit of you, not as the defense secretary but we hope to see you more often and we hope to interact with you and we hope to receive you as a very respected guest of the people of Afghanistan.
SEC. GATES: Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you for the award you just presented to me on behalf of the Afghan people. I am deeply honored.
As the president indicated, this is my 12th and last visit to Afghanistan as United States secretary of defense. In each case, Mr. President, I have appreciated the gracious hospitality you and your colleagues and the ministry of defense have extended to me and my colleagues. I’ve greatly valued our personal friendship and the honest and forthright dialogue that we have always had.
Two sovereign countries as different as the United States and Afghanistan will never look at everything the same way, but I believe we have built the foundation of a real partnership that will be sustained into the future to the benefit of both our people.
Over the next few days I’ll spend most of my time visiting U.S. and coalition forces in the field as well as some of their Afghan comrades. It will be my last chance as defense secretary to look them each in the eye and thank them for their service and their sacrifice on behalf of the future of Afghanistan, the stability of this key region, and the security of the United States.
And because this is my final visit to this country as secretary, I would like to take this occasion to offer some broader reflections to the Afghan people about how we got here, the struggle we are in, and the way ahead.
Twenty years ago, the United States walked away from Afghanistan in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal, believing that our job was done, that what happened here subsequently would not affect our own security and national interests. I remember this all too well, as I was in a senior position in the American government at the time. That tragic miscalculation was exposed by the attacks of September 11th, 2001.
In the years that followed the fall of the Taliban regime, the international effort in Afghanistan, both civilian and military, suffered from a lack of focus, coordination and resources, and too often a lack of respect for Afghan sensitivities and Afghan sovereignty.
When I took this post in December 2006, just over four and a half years ago, the Taliban resurgence was well underway and picking up momentum. In response, the total international military commitment to Afghanistan has increased threefold to nearly 150,000 troops representing more than 45 countries. Over the past year and a half, international forces working with the Afghan army, as well with the Afghan national and local police have made significant military gains, ejecting the Taliban from population centers and their traditional strongholds in the south and the east.
Osama bin Laden, the Taliban’s spiritual and strategic ally, the international terrorist whose use of Afghanistan precipitated our military intervention here, is now gone.
All that said, there is weariness in both of our countries over the duration and costs of this conflict. I am keenly aware that ISAF military operations have at times impacted the Afghan people in unwelcome ways from minor but grating inconveniences to in some rare but tragic cases civilians accidentally killed or injured – losses we mourn and profoundly regret.
But we also know that the vast majority of civilian casualties in Afghanistan are caused by the Taliban, who intentionally target innocent men, women, and children with their terror attacks. And few Afghan citizens want to return to the cruel and despotic regime that so devastated this country during the 1990s.
Now we have reached an important inflection point in this struggle for the future of Afghanistan. The enemy has absorbed serious losses in leadership, manpower and territory over the last year and a half. At the same time, the Afghan army has seen dramatic gains in size and capability. The shift in military momentum provides the Afghan government an opportunity to strengthen the competence of its people through economic development, fair enforcement of the rule of law, attacking corruption and the provision of basic services.
This summer, ISAF will begin a gradual, responsible transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces with the goal of removing all international combat troops by the end of 2014. As this transition moves forward, the Afghan people should remember two main things: first, while the U.S. and our coalition partners may draw down our military forces over time, we are committed to a long-term strategic partnership with Afghanistan.
We will continue to train, equip and support Afghan security forces and do what we can to help the government improve the lives of its citizens. In short, there will be no rush to the exits. And I know that Leon Panetta, President Obama’s choice as my successor, shares this view as does General John Allen, who has been nominated to lead the ISAF when General Petraeus departs later this year.
We have all learned the catastrophic consequences for the Afghan people, for the region, and for the world, of allowing violent extremists allied with terrorists to dominate this country. While the international commitment here is strong and durable, that commitment is not infinite in either time or resources. For the upcoming transition to be successful, the Afghan government and security forces must be willing to step up and take more and more responsibility for governing and defending their own territory. This is the true manifestation of Afghan sovereignty. The international coalition wants to be a strong partner in this effort, but ultimately it is up to the Afghan people and their elected government to chart Afghanistan’s destiny.
With that, I want to thank President Karzai again for his friendship, for his courageous efforts for so many years on behalf of the Afghan people, his steadfast defense of Afghan sovereignty and for the partnership he has sustained with the United States and our ISAF allies.
Finally, I would close by extending my best wishes and prayers to the Afghan people who have endured so much for so long, for their safety and success in these challenging times ahead.
PRES. KARZAI: Thank you very much. Very good. Secretary Gates would you like to take the first –
SEC. GATES: Okay.
Q: Thank you. Secretary Gates, do you think that along with beginning a drawdown of U.S. troops this summer that U.S. and ISAF should also make a change in strategy? And if I may ask a question also of President Karzai, sir, do you believe that ISAF and the United States need to change strategy in view of the decapitation of al Qaeda and the continuing issue of civilian casualties?
SEC. GATES: Well, first of all, I think that it is too soon yet to see the consequences or meaning here in Afghanistan of the elimination of bin Laden. Our hope is that because of his personal relationship with Mullah Omar that his death will lead to a weakening of that relationship and perhaps the Taliban’s willingness to walk away from al Qaeda and disavow them. But I think it’s too early to tell. My hope is that we would have some indication perhaps later this year of the impact.
But I think the important thing is for us to see through where we are today. We have enjoyed a lot of success over the last year to 18 months. We need to continue that. I believe that if we can hold on to the territory that has been recaptured from the Taliban between ourselves and the Afghan forces and perhaps expand that security, that we will be in a position toward the end of this year to perhaps have a successful opening with respect to reconciliation or at least be in a position where we can say we’ve turned a corner here in Afghanistan. I think making any change prior to that time would be premature.
PRES. KARZAI: While we continue to work against terrorism and especially in the aftermath of the removal of Osama bin Laden, hopefully there will be a rethinking in the Taliban and in those elements who are not associated with international terrorist networks or with al Qaeda that they take this opportunity to return to their country in peace and in dignity and participate to the rest of the Afghan people in rebuilding their country.
With this said, our campaign against terrorism will continue and the Afghan people will back and participate in this campaign against terrorism because we have suffered much more than any other nation at the hands of terrorists. The Afghan people would want that this campaign which they would support against terrorism does not bring them casualties in the form of more civilians bombarded or night raids that cause casualties towards civilians or detentions that cause suffering to our people. This is a demand that I’ve been for the past many years repeated with our allies and I will repeat it today again as I did in my meeting with the honorable secretary of defense, especially bombardment of civilian homes is an issue that the Afghans definitely want to end. We cannot take this anymore and the Afghans want a change in it.
With this change in the strategy, if you can call that, and with more emphasis on reconciliation with those Taliban who are not part of al Qaeda or were not part of any other terrorist network, the combination of an effective campaign on sanctuaries of terrorists, wherever they may be, and an effective campaign towards reconciliation and avoiding civilian casualties in Afghanistan, we will fully be behind our partners and will continue to work with them.
Q: (Translated.) (Inaudible) from One TV. Mr. President, while you are criticizing the international raids, bombardments, you are discussing the strategic partnership with the United States. Don’t you think this would even increase the chances of those bombardments and all those raids? And my second question is that you have always spoken about the reconciliation with the world. It’s like one-sided concessions and privileges to the Taliban, including a suggestion to lift the names of the Taliban from the (inaudible). Don’t you think it’s a one-sided way that you are taking while the Taliban do not show any act?
And my second question to Secretary Gates is that you are the – first, I welcome you to Afghanistan. And now that your term will be finished in one month, you spoke of Osama’s elimination as success in Pakistan while last night another terrorist, Ilyas Kashmiri, was killed in Pakistan. It all shows that terrorists are hiding in Pakistan or enjoying safe havens in Pakistan. And why haven’t you taken strong measures to eliminate the havens in Pakistan?
And the other question is about the transition responsibilities –
SEC. GATES: One question to a customer.
PRES. KARZAI: (Translated.) On the strategic partnership agreement that you spoke of – so the main purpose of that strategic partnership between U.S. and Afghanistan is that we move from a situation where people are suffering to a situation where people can enjoy, and can enjoy the interests and where people could enjoy a sovereignty and their interests are served, and at the same time that the U.S. interests are also met and served in that strategic agreement. So this is a mutual document of interests.
And I believe the most important thing in the document that we seek is to be able to provide lasting peace for the people of Afghanistan, a sense of safety people can have in a country with progress and development, free from any far or close interferences. And if we reach to such an agreement, I believe this is going to be in the interest of our country and history will judge us accordingly.
SEC. GATES: The terrorist sanctuaries along the border, particularly on the Pakistani side, have been a continuing concern. The reality is in the last two years or so, I think the Pakistanis themselves have begun to realize that these terrorists are a challenge not only in terms of what goes on in Afghanistan, but are a challenge to the government and the people of Pakistan itself. And we have seen in just recent weeks a number of terrorist attacks inside Pakistan. I think this is the reason that the Pakistanis have deployed some 140,000 of their troops to the border areas. And frankly, their efforts in Swat and South Waziristan have disrupted some of these terrorist sanctuaries. We are always impatient. There is clearly more to be done. The sanctuaries are a problem and we will continue to work both with the government of Afghanistan and the government of Pakistan to try and deal with this problem.
PRES. KARZAI: Secretary Gates, any more questions or should we close off?
SEC. GATES: Julian?
Q: Mr. Secretary, you’ve spoken today about the need to keep military pressure on the Taliban and in advance of possible reconciliation talks in the winter. Does that not argue for keeping the same amount of combat power here at least through the summer in order to maintain that pressure?
And, Mr. President, do you think the Obama administration should take advantage of the July decision to withdraw more forces and reduce the number of raids going on and some of the other activities that you’ve complained about?
SEC. GATES: I think that we have enjoyed a great deal of success over the last two years in two respects. The first has been building the strength and quality of the Afghan national security forces. The Afghan security forces today are tens of thousands larger than they were two years ago.
Second, we have been quite successful over the last 18 months or so, and particularly in the Taliban heartland, in Helmand and Kandahar, as I indicated in my remarks in ejecting them. So it seems to me that between the successes that we’ve already enjoyed and the increased capacity of the Afghan forces, we are a in a position – based on conditions on the ground, as the president has said – to consider some modest draw-downs beginning in July. We have to remember our goals here. It was to deny the Taliban control of populated areas, disrupt and degrade the capabilities of al Qaeda, degrade the capabilities of the Taliban, and enable the Afghan security forces to be able to take greater and greater responsibility for security in the country. I think we’ve made significant headway in each of those principal objectives.
PRES. KARZAI: On the question of the July date and the decision of the U.S. government with regard to reduction of troops beginning in the month of July, the issue of numbers and the categories from the U.S. government to decide, of course, in consultation with the Afghan government. From the prospective of Afghanistan, the most important question is the implementation of the transition process that we have begun together, that this is done exactly as we have planned, that this is done according to the timeframe, that while this is happening that we make sure that the Afghans don’t suffer the consequences of the war on terror and Afghan civilians see more and more of their own government engaging with them, they see the removal of parallel structures that are there right now, to see the removal of the parallel activities that are there right now that they are faced with the Afghan government responsible to the Afghan people and that our partners are here in a supportive role with Afghanistan to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan and most successful conduct against terrorism, whereby eventually the Afghan people will thank the United States and its allies greatly in bringing progress and stability and a lasting peace to this country.
With that objective, I’m sure we are all in agreement, especially in Washington. And I hope we can work it out as good as we speak about it.
Thank you very much.