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Press Conference with Secretary Gates and Minister of Defense Wardak from Afghanistan

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and Afghanistan Minister of Defense Addul Rahim Wardak
March 10, 2010

                 MIN. WARDAK:  Today, as you have witnessed, the Secretary of Defense has accompanied us to see one of the Afghan army training centers.  At the moment, we are in a phase of accelerating the growth of the Afghan National Army, which we do hope that in the future, it will be able to stand in its own feet and relieve the burden from the international forces as far as the physical security is concerned and then the international forces will take mentoring and supporting roles.

 

                Secretary Gates has been a great supporter of our struggle here in Afghanistan for stability and prosperity, and we are profoundly grateful to him, to the DOD, to the U.S. government and to the U.S. people for all the help, support and assistance which they have delivered to save Afghanistan from years of tyranny, destruction and civil war.

 

                At the moment, I think we are in the very critical stage of our joint endeavor, but we are quite optimistic.  We have a clear vision.  We have a shared strategy.  We have a shared assessment.  We have commonly, I think, identified all the problems and crafted the proper response.

 

                So the recent Operation Moshtarak was a good example of that, which we'll continue to implement in the rest of the country and I hope that, I have no doubt that with the new effort with the continuing support of the international community, particularly the United States, I think we will win this endeavor and Afghanistan will stand on its own feet one day, and we will become a constructive and positive member of international community and an enduring partner with the United States and all those countries which have helped us in this time of the trouble.

 

                At the moment, I think the U.S. has sent their best officers, which are led by General McChrystal and we have achieved a partnership, which we have never managed before.  We have all the – all the part of the team, that is, a lot of integration of planning, sharing of intelligence and I think this partnership will further strengthen as the time passes.  And we do hope that sometime by the end of this year or the next year, we will be able to commence the transition from ISAF security to our security.  And I think that's all. 

 

                I thank Secretary Gates once again for all of his support.  Thank you.

 

                SEC. GATES:  Thank you.

 

                Minister Wardak and I have now been partners in this endeavor for over three years, working together and the changes that we have seen in that time, including the arrival and commitment to this country of over 100,000 additional international forces and also the growth and increasing professionalism of the Afghan army as we work together in this campaign.

 

                So I think keeping some perspective about how much has already been achieved, the breadth of international support for what we're doing here, I think, is critically important. 

 

                It's very useful to –

 

                STAFF: Can we pause for translation, sir?

 

                SEC. GATES:  I’m sorry?

 

                STAFF: Pause for translation?

 

                TRANSLATOR: (Speaks in foreign language intermittently hereafter)

 

SEC. GATES:  It's a very impressive operation, and obviously, will play a critical role in the future of the Afghan army. 

 

Although attention may be focused on the operations in the South today, the training that is going on at this facility for the long-term is even more important. 

 

                I'm very impressed by the growing number of Afghans who have stepped forward to help defend their nation. 

 

They have clearly heard their country's call and have rallied.  As I told the soldiers, the future of Afghanistan is in their hands.

 

At the end of the day, only Afghans will be able to provide long-term security for Afghanistan.  This is a goal that both Minister Wardak and I understand and it is the goal toward which we're working together.

 

                STAFF:  We have time for a couple questions.

 

                Q     General Wardak, what is your best estimate of how soon Afghan forces can provide majority security of the country?

 

                And Secretary Gates, do you think we're on target to begin withdrawing some of the initial forces later this year?

 

                MIN. WARDAK:  Actually, we have a timetable that we are following, and we will reach that -- (inaudible) -- approved number on October of 2011.  And I hope by that time we will be able to have the responsibility for the physical security of the country in different regions, and then that process will continue as we go further and our numbers improve and our capabilities increase.

 

                SEC. GATES:  As conditions on the ground permit between now and July of 2011, we might be able to begin the process of transitioning to Afghan security control.  I think it will be a process.  But between now and July 2011, it would have to be conditions-based.  We will begin that transition no later than July of 2011, but the pace will depend also on the conditions on the ground.

 

                The significant increase in the size of the Afghan National Army, the significant increase in the number of international trainers, and the significant increase in coalition forces is all really just getting under way, and we should not be too impatient.

 

                STAFF:  How about someone from the Afghan press?

 

                Q     This is Harun from Persian TV BBC.  I was wondering that we've got reports from the Afghan Ministry of Defense that they do not have enough equipment to fight in south Afghanistan.  How ready is the United States to provide enough equipment for them?  (Continues in a foreign language.)

 

                SEC. GATES:  First of all, obviously, having the proper equipment in the hands of the Afghan troops will be critical to our partnering on the battlefield.  And as with our own forces, the quality and quantity of equipment will go to those units first that are in the fight.  We understand how critical the Afghan forces having proper equipment is and we are focused on that.

 

                MIN. WARDAK:  I was asked the question that -- whether we -- Afghans will be ready by 2015, the date -- I think that was the date -- to take over -- to take over the responsibility of the security of this country.  Undoubtedly at the moment, because we are growing fast, it's an infantry-centric force, and -- but it will be balanced in the next stage, so to get that -- those capabilities which you are talking about.

 

                To take responsibility, I think it is our sincere desire and our earnest hope, and it our historical responsibility and patriotic duty, to defend this country ourselves against all internal and external threats.  And we have demonstrated that capability throughout our history.  Now, I think we are actually -- with the help and support, once we get those numbers, I have no doubt that we will be able to take the responsibility.

 

                But as the secretary mentioned, it will be condition-based.  It will be based on the security trend in the area.  It will depend on the availability of enough ANA, or ANSF in the area.  And it will also depend if there is proper governance, delivery of services, rule of law and economic development.

 

                STAFF:  Last --

 

                Q     (Speaks in a foreign language.)

 

                MIN. WARDAK:  (Speaks in a foreign language.) 

 

                STAFF:  Time for one more per side.  One more per side.

 

                Q     Could I just clarify on -- (off mike)?  You said -- and I wanted to ask Mr. Gates -- if you hope that, by October 2011, the Afghan National Army would have responsibility for the complete security of the country?

 

                MIN. WARDAK:  Yeah, no, I didn't say the country.  Some part of the country.

 

                Q     Okay.  Okay, you're saying by -- okay.

 

                MIN. WARDAK:  As our capability improves, I think the responsibility will get greater until we determine we are able to take over all, to stand on our own feet.  I think throughout our history the Afghans are always proud that we defended this country against overwhelming odds.  At the moment, I mean, that's -- the boys and girls of the international community shed their blood here.  I think we -- (inaudible).  So with the help of the international community, it is our earnest desire to restore our capability to defend this country and relieve them of this burden -- (inaudible) -- as I mentioned before.  And also pay our debt or gratitude to the international community in the meantime to become an enduring partner in this volatile region, this region of the world.

 

                Q     If I could just ask you about President Ahmadinejad, who's here today.  Mr. Gates said on the plane coming over here that he believes that Iran is playing a double game in this country.  Do you agree with that?  And Mr. Gates, do you have any reaction to the president of Iran being -- (inaudible) -- meeting with the president?

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, it's clearly fodder for all conspiratorialists.  But no, as I told -- as I told President Karzai, we think Afghanistan should have good relations with all of its neighbors, but we also want all of Afghanistan's neighbors to play an upfront game in dealing with regards to Afghanistan.

 

                Q     And Minister Wardak, is Iran playing a double game?

 

                MIN. WARDAK:  As far as I’m concerned, I think we have always expressed our wishes and also the desire and our hope to have good relations with our neighbors, because we do believe that a prosperous, stable, peaceful Afghanistan is in the interests of the whole region and all our neighbors, and we will continue that effort.

 

Q    (Inaudible)

 

                SEC. GATES:  Well, we're aware of the need for a balanced force that the minister spoke about earlier.  And we are working with the Afghan army to build an Afghan air power, including both helicopters and cargo aircraft.  I would say in the case of Afghanistan, it is important, first of all, to provide the capabilities necessary to defend against the enemy it faces today, and later we will work together to build the capacity to enable it to defend itself against other enemies in the more distant future.

 

                Okay?  Thank you all.

 

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