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Joint Press Conference with Secretary Gates and President Karzai from Kabul, Afghanistan

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai
December 08, 2009

                PRESIDENT KARZAI:  (Through interpreter.)  Media members, ladies and gentlemen -- (inaudible) -- I'm pleased that we have a very -- (inaudible) -- American -- (inaudible) -- Secretary Gates -- (inaudible) -- Afghanistan -- (inaudible) -- Afghan National Army -- (inaudible) -- Afghanistan -- (inaudible).  We had a detailed discussion of all the issues.  I'm so happy to see our discussions could help us prolong the relationships and enhance the existing relationships for a better fight against terrorism.  (Inaudible) -- thanking the secretary.

               

                SEC. GATES:  Thank you, Mr. President.  And first let me thank President Karzai.  As always, he has been a gracious host and I look forward to continuing our discussion over lunch.

               

                The United States and indeed the entire international community shares President Karzai's vision, as articulated in his inaugural address last month, of an Afghanistan that is capable of defending itself and where peace reigns across the whole nation.  That goal underpinned President Obama's announcement last week of our enduring commitment to this country, its people and the region, a commitment highlighted by a major increase in our support here.

               

                To reverse the negative security trends in many parts of this country, to seize the initiative, President Obama is sending 30,000 more U.S. troops to southern and eastern Afghanistan, the first of which are scheduled to arrive within days and most of the remainder by mid-summer.

               

                Afghanistan's international partners have also demonstrated their strong commitment by pledging at least 7,000 additional troops.  When all is said and done, some 43 nations will have a force that is nearly 150,000 strong, a clear demonstration of the world's unwavering resolve to help the Afghan people, and all here at the invitation of the Afghans and with the sanction of the United Nations. 

               

                The primary objective of this troop increase is to reduce the Taliban's ability to threaten your communities and terrorize your families.  Of course, even as we add more troops, we know that you prefer to have Afghans protecting Afghans.  That is our desire as well.

               

                Our troops are here only as long as it takes to defeat your enemies.  We will fight by your side until Afghan forces are large enough and strong enough to secure the nation on their own, as they have already done in Kabul.  Indeed, wherever Afghan soldiers and police are in the fight, they have shown great courage and made great sacrifices. 

               

                Often, however, there have not been enough of them, and our meeting focused principally on this challenge, on how best to recruit and retain more Afghan troops.  And I reiterated my commitment to do whatever it takes, with training, funding and partnering, to help build Afghan security forces at all levels capable of securing and protecting all Afghans.

               

                I know there is concern that more international troops will lead to more civilian injuries and deaths.  Unlike the enemies of Afghanistan, who deliberately target innocent Afghans and lie about it, our top priority remains the safety of civilians.  We will continue to do everything in our power to protect casualties.  To this end, our commanders, especially General McChrystal, have already changed operational guidelines, and as a result, civilian casualties have declined dramatically.

               

                The transition of security responsibility that begins in July 2011 will be gradual and based on conditions on the ground.  It will proceed district by district, province by province, as conditions permit. 

               

                Our relationship with Afghanistan is a long-term commitment.  As security improves and we begin turning over responsibility to Afghans, our relationship in other areas will only grow, especially with economic and political development.

               

                As President Obama and I have said repeatedly, our government will not again turn our back on this country or the region.  The United States and our many friends and allies around the globe are determined to defeat those who stand between you and a peaceful and a prosperous future.  Together we will succeed and our partnership will flourish for decades to come.

               

                PRESIDENT KARZAI:  Well, I guess we should -- perhaps Secretary Gates will take the first question.

               

                SEC. GATES:  Anne. 

               

                Q     Yes, my question is for President Karzai.  You have already been working to increase the size of your security forces.  What will you do differently to double the size so quickly?  How will you sustain the cost of such a large force over the long term?  And also, what parts of Afghanistan do you envision that your army will be able to take over in those five years?

               

                PRESIDENT KARZAI:  Well, ma'am, that's a very good question.  Our effort is to broaden the base of the Afghan National Security Forces, to have them represent the whole country and to have them impute the young men and the women of Afghanistan from all the provinces of the country. 

               

                For a number of years, maybe for another 15 to 20 years, Afghanistan would not be able to sustain a force of that nature and capability with its own resources.  We hope that the international community, in particular the United States as our first ally, would help Afghanistan reach the ability in terms of its economic ability as well as eventually to sustain the force that would serve Afghanistan with the right numbers and the right equipment.

               

                So Afghanistan is looking forward to taking over the responsibility in terms of paying for its forces and delivering to its forces out of its own resources, but that will not be for another 15 years.  That doesn't mean that we will not be taking responsibilities, financially -- (inaudible).  We will keep on adding to it, as we are already doing now. 

               

                With regard to the parts of the country where the Afghan forces will be taking the lead responsibility, there our timetable is much shorter.  We are working hard, as we have now taken the responsibilities for Kabul, to provide the security in such a critical area of the country in another two years, and hopefully, with maximum effort, to add on the whole of the country to have this and be able to be operations and provide security to the whole of Afghanistan in five years' time.

               

                For an institutionalized army and police force, for an institutionalized security force, it will take much longer to reach the standard that we seek, and that's where we hope we'll have the backing of our allies.  That means in terms of financial support and training support and the provision of inductees. 

               

                You all -- (inaudible.)  CNN will come next.  Right now, the lady here.

               

                Q     (In Arabic.)

               

                SEC. GATES:  We already have a significant partnering relationship with the Afghan National Army, and frankly, our hope is that eventually, as more Afghans are trained and enter the army, that all of our operations will be done jointly with the Afghans.  We would rather have Afghan security forces out in front and dealing with the Afghan population, for whom to them they would be more welcome.

               

                So, to the degree that the international security forces are operating unilaterally, it is only until we have enough Afghan army and police so that all of our operations can be joint.  And, frankly, then our hope is that the Afghan forces will increasingly be operating on their own, with us receding into the background.  This is very much the pattern that we have followed in Iraq and we would like to see it happen here, and the sooner this happens, the better for all of us.

               

                Glenn Kessler?

               

                Q     Yes, President Karzai, U.S. officials have been critical of corruption in your government.  Has the U.S. government given you specific guidelines about who you should support for cabinetship posts and governorships, and do you plan to follow those guidelines?

               

                And then, Secretary Gates, if I might follow up on the earlier answer, does that timeline that the president laid out match with what the administration expects, that it would be five years before this full responsibility taken by the Afghan forces and 15 to 20 years more of U.S. financial and training support?

               

                SEC. GATES:  We anticipate -- well, the president has been very clear that we will begin this process of transitioning in July of 2011.  That will be two years after the Marines moved into southern Helmand.  And I would hope that we not only could meet the timelines that President Karzai has laid out, but that as more Afghans are trained, that we will be able to beat those timelines. 

               

                The reality is, as the president has made clear, it is our expectation that on a gradual conditions-based premise, that we will be reducing our forces after July of 2011.  But as we have made clear in congressional testimony and on television interviews, we expect that this is a several-year process. 

               

                Whether it's three years or two years or four years, I think, remains to be seen.  As President Obama has made very clear, this is not an open-ended commitment on the part of the United States.  And as I expressed it to President Karzai, our hope is that over time we will see a changing balance in our relationship in which the security component diminishes as the security situation improves and the rest of the relationship -- an economic relationship, a development relationship -- becomes the preponderant element of the connection between the two countries.

               

                I think that there is a realism on our part that it will be some time before Afghanistan is able to sustain its security forces entirely on its own.  And whether that's 15 or 20 years, we'll hope for accelerated economic development in Afghanistan.  But I think that it is also true that the United States has made clear to our international partners that we expect them to share in this responsibility.

               

                And as President Karzai has pointed out, here too the balance will shift over time as the Afghan economy expands.  Then the proportion of covering -- the proportion of the cost of covering -- supporting the Afghan security forces will diminish, and the ultimate size of those forces also remains to be seen.  As is often the case after the end of a conflict, you may have a size force that ends up diminishing after the conflict is complete, so the costs would go down as well, quite frankly.

               

                PRESIDENT KARZAI:  Well, sir, on the question of corruption, we have had extensive engagement with our partners on this issue.  We understand their concerns and we have also expressed our concerns to our partners on the ways and methods of fighting against corruption and the needs of Afghanistan in this regard.

               

                But the bottom line of this is that to the extent that the Afghan corruption that there is, it falls entirely on us, the Afghan people, to fight it, to remove it, and to cut it down to minimum to the best of our abilities.  We should do this for Afghanistan.  It's a malaise affecting our society.  It's preventing us from fullness.  It's stealing revenues away from us.  The better we function there, the sooner we'll be able to pay for ourselves and sustain ourselves. 

               

                Therefore, it's essentially an Afghan concern and one that we find forces in the international community legitimate on this.  Therefore, yes, Afghanistan has had this engagement with the United States and our other allies, and Afghanistan is committed to doing all that it can.  And we will, certainly, by all means.  As we move ahead, you will see that things are being done about it.  Yes, we've done it in the past; there will be much more delivery on it.

               

                All cabinet and cabinet forces, the international community is part of the engagement;  money to Afghanistan, helping build institutions with us, especially the army and the police and the intelligence, and the areas of economic development will be of particular focus, on culture, on energy, on the continuation of development in roads and education and health.  Here too, the resources will be coming.

               

                So we will try our best as Afghans to present a cabinet to the Afghan people that can also be appreciated and supported by the international community.

               

                Q     I have a very important question.

               

                PRESIDENT KARZAI:  I have a very important question, too.

               

                (Cross talk.)

               

                Q     -- corruption of our --

               

                (Cross talk.)

               

                PRESIDENT KARZAI:  No, no, no, no, no.  No, no.  I have promised to CNN so we'll go there.  This time we will not get Jazeera.  This time it will be CNN.

               

                Q     The corruption -- (inaudible) -- corruption in Afghanistan -- (inaudible) -- international community – who will answer that?

               

                PRESIDENT KARZAI:  We will come to that.

               

                Q     (Inaudible.)

               

                PRESIDENT KARZAI:  As much as I'm interested in this question, we will come to it later. 

               

                Q     Later.

               

                PRESIDENT KARZAI:  CNN?

               

                Q     (Inaudible.)  One question I had for President Karzai is there's a lot of rumors going around right now about the cabinet.  I was wondering if you could answer when we're going to see some results on who the new cabinet will be, what we can expect from it.

               

                And also, my colleague does have a point when he talks about the international community and the corruption within Afghanistan.  I'm hoping Secretary Gates could also help with this question.

               

                Much blame has been put on the Afghan government, but there seems to be a lot of finger-pointing as well at the international community by internationals as well as from people within the Afghan government that the international corruption is also widespread through Afghanistan.  How is that going to be taken care of?

               

                PRESIDENT KARZAI:  On the cabinet, the formation of the cabinet, the date of presenting the cabinet to the parliament, you will hear about it very soon.  I was ready today to send at least that 40 percent of the cabinet to the parliament, but then yesterday spoke with Chairman Qanuni of our Wolesi Jirga, who said that many parliamentarians would wish that I sent them the entire cabinet at once, and I find that legitimate.  So I'm today sending the short list, so I can send them a complete list hopefully by next Tuesday, Wednesday.  I'll try to do it before that but I'll definitely try to send them notice by then. 

               

                Not all of the cabinet will change.  The ministers who've done very, very well -- sort of proven themselves, and there quite a few of them in the current cabinet that will stay on.  Some will go, some will stay.  Life will go on.  As the cabinet comes in to work, they will still get an evaluation by the press, by the Afghan people, by the international community.  So I guess once the cabinet is announced too and proven too, that will not be the end of the process.

               

                Q     Can we expect the announcement Tuesday or Wednesday or after the parliamentary (inaudible)?

               

                PRESIDENT KARZAI:  We will send it to the parliament and then the parliament will take its time. 

               

                SEC. GATES:  I testified last week before our Congress that I thought that the international community, including the United States, bore some responsibility for these problems, in no small part because of the enormous amount of money the international community has been spending here in Afghanistan as part of contracting processes and so on.

               

                And I think that one of the things that I've talked with the ambassador about, that I've talked with General McChrystal about and others back in the United States is how can we tighten our procedures in a way that makes it more difficult for money being provided, at minimum by the United States, hopefully by the international community as a whole, to be siphoned off as part of the corruption?

               

                So we do have some responsibility here.  It is, as President Karzai said, a real problem here in Afghanistan, but in some respects I think the vast amounts of money the international community is spending has been an enabler, if you will, and has created a -- I guess the simplest way to put it would be a significantly larger temptation than has been perhaps the case in the past. 

               

                And so I think we do have a contribution to make.  I think President Karzai has taken responsibility for dealing with the problem insofar as the Afghans are concerned.  We have to do what we can do to help make it more difficult for people to participate.

               

                PRESIDENT KARZAI:  (Inaudible.)

               

                Q     Thank you very much.

               

 

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