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Press Conference with Secretary Panetta and Afghan President Karzai in Kabul, Afghanistan

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta and Afghan President Hamid Karzai
December 14, 2011

                PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI:  (Inaudible) -- "As-Salamu Alaykum" -- (President Karzai's remarks are provided through an interpreter.)  Ladies and gentlemen, good evening.  I'm pleased -- (inaudible) -- to welcome Mr. Leon Panetta, the secretary of defense of the United States.  And I welcome him to Afghanistan.  He is well-recognized and a friend to Afghanistan -- (inaudible) -- both -- I enjoy both personal and at the -- (inaudible) -- country-level relationship with him.  Even when he served as the chief of the CIA, he had visits to Afghanistan.  And so it's a few times he's been visiting to Afghanistan, and I most  welcome him to the country and I express my gratitude for the cooperation and assistance he and his government has been making to the country.  

                In our discussions this evening, we spoke on all related issues of mutual interest on the situation in the region, on the strategic partnership with the U.S. and our future relationship with the U.S.  We also talked about the situation -- (inaudible) -- of our national army -- (inaudible) -- security forces.  

                And I, once again, welcome -- (inaudible) -- and I thank you, Mr. Secretary, for the assistance and for all the cooperation -- (inaudible) -- and the contributions -- (inaudible) -- 

                SEC. PANETTA:  Thank you very much.  Thank you very much, Mr. President.  It is, as always, an honor to be able to be with you again here in Kabul. 

                This is my second visit to Afghanistan as secretary of defense.  But as the president has pointed out, I've made many other visits here in other capacities.  

                But this is however the first opportunity I've had to be able to do a joint press conference with the president.  And I wanted to begin by publicly expressing my appreciation for your personal friendship, for your efforts on behalf of the Afghan people, for the excellent in-depth discussions that we have had and just completed and for your long friendship and relationship with the American people.  

                I also want to congratulate Afghanistan on the success of their national -- (inaudible) -- tremendous success for your country and, I'm sure, tremendously inspiring to your people.  

                (Inaudible) -- President Karzai and I had the opportunity to sit down and engage in some very productive discussions about what we can do to build on the progress that we have made in our shared efforts here in Afghanistan, including how we work with Pakistan and others to further regional cooperation and security here in Afghanistan.  

                There is no doubt that, over the last two years, Afghan and international forces have been able to seize the momentum; seize the momentum from the Taliban insurgency and establish security in critical areas such as the Taliban -- (inaudible) -- in the South.  

                2011, I think, has represented a very important turning point in the war.  Earlier today, I had the opportunity to visit with troops serving in RC-East, a region that is and will continue to be a focus of our government in coming years.  And I had the opportunity to get a firsthand assessment from our commanders and troops on the ground, from General Allen, General Scaparrotti and others on the important gains that have been made in that area.  

                And I come away from this that, as we continue making important progress in building security, that we are moving closer to our goal of denying al-Qaida and its militant allies safe haven in this area from which to conduct attacks on our homeland and that we are moving towards a strong Afghanistan that can govern and secure itself for the future.  

                This past year has been remarkable because we have been fully able to continue to make gains even as we have begun the process of drawing down at least 10,000 troops that President Obama ordered as a result of beginning to reduce the surge.  

                We have begun a very important transition that I think represents the fact that we have made important gains here in Afghanistan.  

                We will continue to work together in this transition.  And perhaps a sign of this is the increasing size and capabilities of the Afghan national security forces, which are more and more in the lead and are absolutely essential to the ultimate success of our efforts here.  

                I want to convey to President Karzai and to all of the Afghan people my admiration for the strength and determination of the Afghan national security forces and their ability to defend their country, which was so much in evidence by the protection that the Afghan security forces provided in the recent and successful loya jirga. 

                They have fought and they have bled alongside American troops and international forces.  And because of their sacrifices and because of their commitment, we have been able to move forward with this very important transition, including a second tranche of provinces that President Karzai announced this last month.  

                This announcement means that more than 50 percent of the Afghan population is moving toward Afghan governance and Afghan security.  It is a real accomplishment.  

                This deliberate transition will ensure the security gains that I discussed, and they will ensure that these gains are lasting and that the Afghan people are able to them focus on the important work of securing and building their future.  

                Even as we do so, the Afghan people should know that the United States is committed to -- (word inaudible) -- a long-term relationship with the Afghan people.  And not only does Afghanistan have the support of the United States; it also has the backing of the region and the international community as it seeks to build a stronger and more stable country for the future.  

                I'd like to close by congratulating President Karzai on his leadership; his leadership at the Istanbul and Bonn conferences, which provide further proof of the enduring commitment of the United States and the international community to assisting the Afghan people.  

                Mr. President, we share in the sorrow of the lost lives and the blood that has been spilled of both Afghans and Americans.  And we pledge that their sacrifice will not be in vain and that, ultimately, we will achieve the goal of a sovereign and independent Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself, one that will never allow al-Qaida and the Taliban to be able to establish a safe haven here from which to conduct attacks on America.  

                Thank you, Mr. President, once again, for hosting me and for your dedication to this effort and for your strong friendship.  

                PRESIDENT KARZAI:  (President Karzai's remarks are not provided through an interpreter.)  Mr. Panetta, why don't you ask for first -- 

                SEC. PANETTA:  (Inaudible) -- I ask?  

                Q:  Thank you, Secretary Panetta.  Today -- (inaudible) -- important work needed to be done in Afghanistan that -- (inaudible).  Perhaps you can -- (inaudible) -- why -- (inaudible) -- given the resiliency of the insurgency and the recent high-profile attacks.  

                President Karzai, do you agree with the assessment that NATO and Afghan forces are winning against the insurgency in Afghanistan?  Thank you.  

                SEC. PANETTA:  As always, we have not won.  We have not completed this mission.  But I do believe we are in the process of making significant progress here.  

                Clearly, we have seen reduced violence, the most reduced violence in five years.  We have seen our ability to weaken the Taliban significantly to the point that they have not conducted a successful attack to regain lost territory.  

                We continue to see gains with regards to the Afghan army and Afghan security forces who are operational, who are engaging in battle, who are providing the kind of security that needs to happen if we are to make that eventual successful transition.  

                And we are seeing the transition of these provinces to Afghan control and governance.  We did one tranche already, which has proven successful.  We are in the process of now implementing the second tranche of areas that will transition.  

                As I stated, once we complete that process, over 50 percent of the population will be under Afghan security and governance.  

                I think when you look at those achievements, clearly we are going in the right direction.  Are there challenges?  Of course there are.  Does the Taliban remain dangerous?  Of course it does.  Does this mean that we are going to continue to see high-profile attacks in the future?  Yes, we will.  

                But are we going in the right direction?  Are we making significant progress here in Afghanistan?  Yes, we are.  

                PRESIDENT KARZAI:  The cooperation of the United States and NATO forces with the Afghans has brought Afghanistan stability overall.  (Inaudible) -- and the stability of the -- (inaudible) -- moving towards a better future with accomplishments that we have spoken about before I do not repeat.  

                What we have not fully done yet is to provide individual security to the Afghan people, the security of Afghan individuals and Afghan people as a whole to provide them protection from attacks that occur from time to time.  

                So with regard to the overall stability of Afghanistan, yes.  With regard to bringing personal security to the Afghan people, we have a journey to make, and I hope that journey will be done sooner and successfully.

                (Off mic.) 

                Q:  (Off mic) -- the one with a pen -- (inaudible) -- from BBC.  My question is to Secretary Gates (sic).  

                Very briefly, after 2014, will the U.S. have permanent military bases in Afghanistan? 

                 And the second question is that, both the U.S. and Afghanistan have made provisions and promised that Afghanistan soil will not be used for any threats against other countries.  Don't you think that using and flying drone aircraft, with the recent example in Iran, is not considered a threat against another country?  

                SEC. PANETTA:  First and foremost, I'm Secretary Panetta, not Secretary Gates.  

                Q:  (Off mic.)  

                SEC. PANETTA:  There are moments that I wish Secretary Gates was still here.  

                With regards to the last part of your question, first, what's involved there are operations that I cannot discuss publicly and I will not discuss publicly other than to say that, part and parcel with the effort to not only protect Afghanistan but protect the United States is to attain important intelligence that allows us to be able to protect your people and to protect ours.  

                Secondly, we do not have any intention to maintain permanent bases here in Afghanistan.  Our hope is that we would be able to, as we develop the strategic relationship for the future, be able to work with the Afghans to use, ultimately, the bases that they will have in the future and be able to work with them, train with them, advise them and be able to provide support to them.  

                But Afghanistan would be in charge of those bases.  

                MR.     :  Should we take one more question?  

                SEC. PANETTA:  Sure. 

                MR.     :  (Inaudible.) 

                Q:  Mr. Secretary, just a little bit of a follow-up on that last question.  

                You said, I believe, yesterday that such missions -- drone missions over Iran would likely continue.  Considering the ramifications, do you think that that is a correct course?  

                And President Karzai, have you lodged any protest with the United States over these -- the use of Afghanistan as a base for these missions?  Were you aware that they were already going on prior to this incident?  And what do you -- do you believe that they should continue?  

                SEC. PANETTA:  Again, you know, these are operations that I will not discuss publicly other than to say that, part and parcel of our effort to defend this country and to defend our country involves important intelligence operations, which we will continue to pursue. 

                PRESIDENT KARZAI:  Ma'am, Afghanistan was not aware that the drone  had -- (inaudible) -- malfunctioned  in Iran.  The government of Iran has sent a note to us on that.  Our Ministry of Foreign Affairs is -- (inaudible) -- out with the U.S. government.  Afghanistan has placed -- (inaudible) -- the best of relationships, has -- and has worked that relationship very, very well.  

                In the past 10 years, we have seen both Iran and the United States and – (inaudible) Afghanistan's position vis-a-vis each one of those countries.  The Iranians have really understood and have cooperated with Afghanistan on the present course of the international process in Afghanistan, major forces in Afghanistan and the fact that the United States is a major ally of Afghanistan -- (inaudible) -- a very frank and open and clear -- (inaudible) -- with our brothers in Iran -- (inaudible) -- the United States -- (inaudible) -- Afghanistan's -- (inaudible) -- neighbor of Iran, as a country deep -- (inaudible) -- and religious things with Iran and that Afghanistan should maintain and has maintained a very friendly relationship with Iran.  Afghanistan would not want to be involved in any -- how should I put it? -- not anti -- (inaudible) -- adversarial relations between Iran and the United States.  Afghanistan wishes that the -- (inaudible) -- and that Afghanistan sovereignty and territorial -- (inaudible) -- is not used -- (inaudible).  

                Q:  Mr. President, my question is to you, Mr. President.  How do you respond to the comments by the Pakistan foreign minister who said that the murder of the former president is related to the Afghan refugees because we have also had -- (inaudible) -- that have a lot of problems with -- (inaudible) -- that also felt that -- (inaudible) -- or businessmen types to -- (inaudible) -- Afghanistan for the Afghans.  

                Can you -- (inaudible) -- more on this or what is the -- I mean, what is the process of the negotiations with Pakistan regarding the -- (inaudible) -- for the U.S. -- (inaudible) -- in Afghanistan?  

                PRESIDENT KARZAI:  In regards to Professor Rabbani's assassination, of staff sent a delegation a few weeks ago to Pakistan, and Pakistan welcomed the delegation.  And it was briefed that the initial investigation and probe be followed on, and Pakistan invites the Afghan delegation for the follow-up on the investigation into the assassination though we are seriously following at this investigation.  

                Q:  (Inaudible) -- because the Pakistan authorities are also -- (inaudible) -- the Afghan businessmen for -- (inaudible) -- for example -- (inaudible) -- and they're thinking that they are putting the -- (inaudible) -- forces in there -- (inaudible) --  Afghanistan.  (Inaudible) -- negotiations with the Pakistani -- (inaudible) -- that we're really going to get -- (inaudible) -- try to -- (inaudible) -- on it.  

                SEC. PANETTA:  With regards to the -- (inaudible) -- that we have through Pakistan, first and foremost, with regards to our forces, our forces have adequate supplies to be able to conduct this war, and we have other routes of supply that can provide the support they need in order to conduct this war.  

                We, however, continue to work with the Pakistanis with the hope that we can find a way to reopen those routes because we understand the economic impact but, more importantly, the impact in terms of our ability to provide quick supplies to our troops using those routes is important to us.  

                And we remain confident that we will be able to see those routes of supply reopened, hopefully, in the near future.