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Joint Press Conference with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak
June 07, 2012

            (Applause.)

            MINISTER ABDUL RAHIM WARDAK:  (Through interpreter.)  (Inaudible) -- United States, Afghanistan and other countries have important and efficient messages to the people and to the enemies of Afghanistan, we tell them that the international community will not -- (inaudible) -- again.  (Inaudible) -- to fall in the hands of the enemy again and to become the nest of the terrorists once again. And this consequence -- at the meeting of the NATO leaders in Chicago -- and supplying training and equipment of the ANA and other national forces was discussed over there -- and the total conference for the discussion over there.  And it was -- (inaudible) -- other discussed messages -- (inaudible) and the interest of the country.

            For although the Afghan National Security forces are trying to improve their capacity  -- (inaudible) -- and to be able to take over many of the responsibilities from the international forces.  For example -- (inaudible) operations that will start in was planned by Afghans. And it will be led by Afghans.

            (Inaudible.)

            And Afghan National Security Forces are able enough to defeat them and to fight them, and they will fight them much better in the future. Jointly together, Afghans and the international community have had their campaign against terrorism -- (inaudible) democracy in Afghanistan. Before I go to Mr. Panetta, I want to thank the people and government of the United States of America (inaudible) -- and welcome them to this country.

            And I promise that the Afghan National Security Forces will try their best to reach our common and joint goal. Thank you very much.

            SECRETARY LEON PANETTA:  Thank you very much, Mr. Minister.  I deeply appreciate -- (inaudible).  And I want to express my deepest thanks for your leadership and for your partnership in our share of the effort to build a more stable and peaceful Afghanistan.

            This is my fourth trip to Afghanistan as secretary of defense.  I've taken a number of trips here in a different capacity.  It's been nearly one year since I made my first trip to Afghanistan as secretary, shortly after I was sworn in for this job.  The purpose of that trip at the time was to make very clear that my primary task was to ensure that we prevailed in the conflicts that we were engaged in and that we do everything we can to establish an Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself, and that can ensure that it never again becomes a safe haven for al-Qaida and for their allies from which to conduct attacks on our country.

            That mission remains true today.  And over the course of the past year, despite difficult challenges and despite setbacks, and to acknowledge that oftentimes there was heartbreak over the loss of loved ones.  There is no denying the fact that we have moved closer to achieving our objectives here in Afghanistan.  During the past year, we have maintained pressure on the Taliban, denying them the ability to regain lost territory.  Their momentum has been broken, and they have been weakened.  And even though we are seeing an up-tick in violence in recent days -- that level of violence -- the overall level of violence is down from past years.

            We have built up an Afghan army so that they are increasingly in the lead for their operations.  And they are every day improving their capability to secure the areas that they are assigned.  And for the first time, Afghans took leadership for planning this year's campaign plan and we are on track to reach the full service strength of the ANSF ahead of the scheduled deadline in October.

            This success has enabled us to proceed steadily with the transition to Afghan security.  That is the goal in districts and provinces across the country.  With President Karzai's announcement of the third tranche of transition, we now have a plan in place for the ANSF to provide a security lead for three-quarters of the Afghan population, including every provincial capital.  This will enable our forces to evolve from conventional formations and transition to advisory teams as we proceed to implement the plan adopted in Chicago, a plan of moving towards the goal of completing our transition by the end of 2014.

            In Chicago, the entire international community -- over 50 nations -- came together to send a very strong signal that we have an enduring commitment to the stability and security of Afghanistan, and that we will support the ANSF not just now but over the long term.  The resolve of the international community to stand with Afghanistan sends a very strong message for the Taliban that we are committed for the long term in Afghanistan, that we're not going anywhere and that time is not on their side.

            There will undoubtedly be more challenges and setbacks ahead.  We have a tough fight in our hands.  But thanks to General Allen's campaign plan and the bravery and sacrifice of foreign and Afghan forces, along with the bravery and sacrifice of the United States forces, we are on the right track.

            Let me, if I may, close by paying tribute to Ambassador Crocker, who along with General Allen has been behind much of the important progress that I have spoken about today.  Ryan, I believe, is one of the great diplomats of our time.  And he has made a real difference this past year.  He is, in my book, the consummate public servant.  And I want to express my gratitude to him for making the decision to come back into public service and to wish him the very best for the future.  I think he can take great pride in knowing that because of his sacrifice and because of his service, he has helped place Afghanistan on the right track to completing the mission that we are involved with.  Thank you.

            MR. GEORGE LITTLE, DEFENSE PRESS SECRETARY:  First question. Gopal.

            Q:  Mr. Secretary and Defense Minister, my name is Gopal Ratman, reporter with Bloomberg News in Washington.  Mr. Secretary, you've been saying that Pakistan could do more to contain the Haqqani network, to take down the safe havens.  What specifically do you want them to do -- (inaudible) -- what specifically should they be doing?  And for the minister and for the secretary as well, what kind of a residual U.S. force would you like to see after 2014?  And are you concerned that the U.S. may need a full-power force to accomplish this mission? Thank you.

            SEC. PANETTA:  We have -- we've made very clear that it's difficult to achieve a secure Afghanistan as long as there is a safe haven for terrorists in Pakistan from which they can conduct attacks on our forces.  And we have continued to see the Haqqanis coming across the border area to attack our forces, most recently in Salerno, where they proceeded with an attack that wounded a number of our men and women in uniform.

            It is very important that Pakistan take steps to deal with this threat.  We have made that clear time and time again.  We will continue to make that clear that it is an intolerable situation to have those attacking our people, our forces, have the convenience of being able to return to a safe haven in Pakistan.  We intend obviously to take whatever steps necessary to protect our forces.  That's a principle that we always stand by.  But to make that happen, we have to have the cooperation of Pakistan to take steps to control the Haqqani threat from their side of the border.

            MIN. WARDAK:  As far as that other question, the size of the force which would remain here, I think that will be determined once we finalize the security agreement.  But as far as I am concerned personally, the political, strategic and symbolic significance of the force has far more importance than the actual size of the force.  And today is a world that I think -- (inaudible) -- forces to move quickly from one corner of the world to the other.  So that would not be -- (inaudible) -- but only that there is a partner, a strategic partner that -- that will help when it is required -- that will be more important than the actual size of the force.

            Q:  (Inaudible.)

            SEC. PANETTA:  Well, again, it is -- there is an increasing concern that the safe haven exists, and that those -- likely Haqqanis who are making use of that to attack our forces.  We are reaching the limits of that patience here, and for that reason, it is extremely important that Pakistan take action to prevent this kind of safe haven from taking place, and from allowing terrorists to use their country as a safety net in order to conduct their attacks on our forces.  We have -- we have made that very clear time and time again, and we will continue to do that.  But as I said, we are reaching the limits of our patience.

            MIN. WARDAK:  As far as the terrorist nest of concern on the other side of the border -- all we hear that we are expecting that we are having a common enemy -- (inaudible) -- cooperation, coordination between the two countries, and also with the U.S. together, we will be able -- to others all the -- (inaudible).  And the places wherever the terrorists are located, they can take a bigger action, because the actions -- (inaudible) -- can be in intelligence, it can be a law enforcement -- or this can be a military operation.  So we do hope that gradually they will come to the conclusion that to cooperate with us, and then I think that that cooperation starts -- we will be able to disrupt their command and control, indeed, to disrupt their training, to disrupt their weapon procurement and to be also able to eliminate or capture their leadership.

            Without doing that, I think our endeavor to achieve this will become much more difficult.  And one way to do that -- we need to degrade their combat capabilities to a level that they are not anymore a serious threat.  And the other will be (inaudible) -- successful reintegration and reconciliation courses, that will also help.  As the secretary has already mentioned that addressing the sanctuary is the most important issue and the challenge which we are facing.  And as far as the Afghan Air force is concerned, there is a program that we are going to be having -- up to 146 aircrafts -- and I do strongly believe as our partnership and continued cooperation goes farther and strengthens as the time passes -- most of the challenges which you are facing today will be -- (inaudible) -- and the obstacles will be removed and then we will be able to operate independently and to be able to stand on our own feet in battle -- definitely our final role -- and to be a level partner for our U.S. and other allies for peacekeeping operation or other operation -- (inaudible).

            Q:  Hi, I'm Larry Abramson, National Public Radio.  Given the recent violence, gentlemen, don't you have to consider adjusting the pace of the withdrawal of the surge troops, perhaps waiting until the winter when the Taliban -- (inaudible)?

            SEC. PANETTA:  Larry, in the discussions I've had with General Allen, he's very confident that he can maintain the pace with regards to the withdrawal of surge forces and be able to deal with the uptick in violence at the same time.  A large part of that is due, obviously, to the support that the Afghan army is providing in their ability to become more operational and more effective.  But the fact is, in addition to that, that the country has made significant progress in the transition to both Afghan security and governance.  So I feel very confident that General Allen has a very effective plan in place and that he can deal with the situation. 

            In addition to that, I should say that we are engaged in a periodic review that we will do with the Afghans, looking at the level of force that they need to maintain in order to secure this country not only now, but in the future. 

            MIN. WARDAK:  I would just like to reiterate what Mr. Secretary has said that there is enough flexibility built into to the plan, and one of them is the need to revise the security situation periodically and then not to become detached from the realities of the ground and adjust our approaches accordingly.

            MR. LITTLE:  (Off mic) -- thank you. 

            Q:  (In foreign language.) 

            SEC. PANETTA:  Well, look, first and foremost, let me -- let me make clear that ISAF forces are taking this battle to the Taliban.  We are not simply sitting around and waiting for them to initiate their attacks.  We are taking the battle to them every day.  And that has proven very effective in weakening their ability to conduct these attacks.  We will continue to do that. 

            At the same time, we have to diplomatically put as much pressure as we can on Pakistan to take steps to control the safe haven on their side.  And that's something we continue to do.  Obviously, as you know, we are in negotiations with them with regards to rapporteur from the GLOCs.  And we continue to be in discussions with them on other issues as well.  And I can assure you that this issue, the issue of the safe haven, is an issue that we are going to continue to press because of the concern we have with regards to these recent attacks.  

            MR. LITTLE:  Thank you very much. 

            MIN. WARDAK:  (Inaudible.)  (In foreign language.) 

            SEC. PANETTA:  Thank you.

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