I just had a very useful meeting with Defense Minister Vondra, and I want to personally thank him for this opportunity to talk face-to-face about the many ways in which we are working together to address global security challenges, and how we can expand this cooperation in the future.
One of the most important areas we discussed was current operations in Afghanistan and the progress being made toward the Lisbon Summit goal of a transition to Afghan responsibility for security by the end of 2014.
The Czech contingent in Afghanistan will rise to over 700 this year. This increase comes in the form of additional trainers and mentors who will improve the capabilities of Afghan security forces and the Afghan military as we prepare them for this important transition.
I conveyed my country’s gratitude to the Czech Armed Forces for their vital contribution to the ISAF mission, as well as in Kosovo and Iraq. The dedicated professionalism of Czech troops and civilian specialists in Afghanistan is highly valued by Allied command and staff, including General Petraeus. I expressed condolences on behalf of the American people for the recent loss of a Czech soldier. As someone who has met with many families of fallen warriors in my own country, I can tell you that there is no more sobering reminder of the costs of establishing peace and security.
Minister Vondra shared with me the Czech government’s efforts, through the White Book on Defense, to improve and reform the military and the defense procurement system. The United States applauds these efforts, because they make a good and capable ally an even better and stronger one. We all face difficult choices as we seek to spend our scarce resources wisely.
A transparent and efficient procurement process ensures that taxpayers' money is properly spent; that our servicemembers are well equipped; and that we, as NATO Allies, are making the necessary contributions for our collective security and defense. Moreover, these improvements will lead to even more opportunities for defense industrial and research and development cooperation.
I am gratified that we have been able to provide some significant assistance to the Czech Armed Forces in terms of training, and also in the way of new modern communications and aircrew equipment. These opportunities to train together, and to fight our adversaries using common tools, represent the tangible mutual benefits of our strategic relationship.
One key area where this cooperation is yielding important results is training in helicopter operations, as Minister Vondra noted. Not only is the Czech Republic preparing Afghan pilots as part of our NATO mission, but we are also working together on several current and future projects that will expand both U.S. and Czech capabilities to provide operational support to a range of potential missions.
We also have a long-standing National Guard State Partnership program in which the citizen soldiers and airman of the Texas and Nebraska National Guards have shared their professional experience with the Czech Armed Forces in the areas of disaster relief and mass casualty operations.
We see a number of ways in which this partnership can lead to expanded cooperation in support of the transformational goals set forth in the White Book on Defense.
So, as you can see, our strategic defense relationship is a broad one, and Minister Vondra and I are both committed to continuing and expanding our partnership to meet the most critical security challenges we face in the 21st century.