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

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan
September 02, 2010

                  PRESIDENT KARZAI:  (Through interpreter.)  Good evening, media members.  Welcome to our press conference today.  I am again honored and pleased today to welcome a very close friend of us and -- from U.S., and I welcome Secretary Gates to Afghanistan.  I don't know, which trip is it?  Maybe the 12th.

                 Secretary Gates is one of the personalities who -- with whom we enjoy -- I and the government of Afghanistan -- very close relations.  And today we discussed a wide range of issues of mutual interest, including a strategic partnership, the fight against terrorism, our progress in Afghanistan, the achievements we've made so far.

                 And we are honored to welcome His Excellency once again to Afghanistan.  And we look forward to a strengthened partnership with the U.S. in helping us build our institutions and the country.

                 Thank you.

                 SEC. GATES:  Thank you, Mr. President.

                 First, I would like to thank President Karzai for hosting me this evening.  We discussed our shared effort to bring security to the Afghan people, an effort that now finally has the necessary resources in place to begin delivering tangible, lasting results.

                 As of this week, nearly all 30,000 U.S. troops ordered here by President Obama last December as part of the new strategy have arrived and are conducting operations.  Over this period, our allies and partners have sent 7,000 additional forces; reaching nearly three-quarters of their total surge commitment.  Our dramatic increase in military capability is amplified by a tripling of deployed civilians and a substantial influx of trainers.

                 Meanwhile, the size and capabilities of the Afghan national security forces continue to grow, in number and in quality -- the growth by nearly 60,000 over the last nine months, reaching their annual recruitment goal three months ahead of schedule.  About 85 percent of the Afghan National Army are now partnered with ISAF forces in the field -- training together, planning together and fighting together -- with Afghan forces increasingly taking the lead.

                 President Karzai and his Cabinet have developed a plan for locally recruited forces that will be accountable to the central government but will also give local communities the means to defend themselves.  Further, we will continue to work with the Pakistani government to deny safe havens to those who launch attacks inside Afghanistan.  All of these developments bring us closer to the goal of an Afghanistan that is able to provide for its own security.

                 As we expected and warned, coalition forces, as well as Afghan army and police, have taken heavier casualties as we go into areas the Taliban has dominated for years.  Having said that, our enemies are paying a very steep price and feeling more pressure than ever.  That will only intensify, as Afghan and coalition military operations expand, bringing security to people and communities the Taliban has terrorized.  This is precisely the kind of pressure we believe will lead to reconciliation and reintegration.  We are beginning to see small, isolated examples of individuals and groups laying down their arms rather than confront Afghan and coalition forces.

                 Even as our joint combat operations reach unprecedented size and intensity, we are seeing progress in our goal of reducing Afghan civilian casualties caused by coalition forces.  We will continue to make every effort to avoid innocent victims in our operations altogether.  However, at the same time, the Taliban leadership has undertaken a brutal campaign of intimidation against Afghan civilians and assassination of Afghan officials.  Mindful that our joint imperative here is to bring security to the Afghan people, we recognize that it is ultimately our collective responsibility to protect Afghan civilians from all kinds of cruelty.

                 Still, establishing security is only one step in our broader efforts.  Success will ultimately be determined by how well a sovereign Afghan government, with the support of the international community, can respond to the needs of its citizens.  Much has been accomplished in this regard, and I think we agree, more remains to be done.

                 President Karzai and I also discussed our respective efforts against the incidence of corruption that, as he has forthrightly noted, saps the strength and resources of the Afghan people and diminishes their support for their elected government.  I want to note that the U.S. must make sure that American dollars and other foreign assistance do not fuel corruption.  Ambassador Eikenberry and General Petraeus are putting in place new procedures and controls to accomplish this objective.  And we fully support the Afghan government in its own efforts to address corruption.

                 It is our attempt to begin a gradual, conditions-based transition to Afghan security control next summer.  But even as the coalition's military role will change over time, the long-term commitment of the United States to the Afghan people and their security will remain strong and enduring.  Indeed, President Karzai and I discussed the importance of the strengthened U.S.-Afghan strategic partnership declaration now being developed by our two governments.  As President Obama has frequently noted, we are not turning off the lights next July.  If the Taliban really do believe that America is headed for the exits next summer in large numbers, they will be deeply disappointed, and surprised to find us very much in the fight.

                 The goal of the U.S. in this region continues to be to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist affiliates in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and wherever else they seek safe havens from which to exploit those around them and threaten all of us.  Our success will be critical for the future of the Afghan people, for the stability of the region and for the long-term security interests of America and its allies.

                 Thank you, Mr. President.

                 PRESIDENT KARZAI:  Secretary Gates, would you like to have the first question?

                 SEC. GATES:  All right.  I'm happy to.

                 Q     Coalition forces today conducted an air strike allegedly targeting a prominent member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.  But the government of Afghanistan, however, assures that the strike killed many civilians. 

                 Secretary Gates, do you think that that strike was legitimate?  And President Karzai, do you feel like NATO and the U.S. owe you an apology?

                 SEC. GATES:  Well, I have limited knowledge of the strike at this point.  I do believe I am able to confirm that a very senior official of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan was the target and was killed.  And this is an individual who was responsible for organizing and orchestrating a number of attacks here in Kabul and in northern Afghanistan.

                 This is the first that I had heard that civilians may have been killed.  And we will certainly look into that. 

                 PRESIDENT KARZAI:  We received a report this morning from our governor of Takhar that an airstrike was conducted in which a candidate for parliament named Abdulawahid Khorasani and his convoy suffered casualties.  The reports that we get so far are 10 are killed and three wounded in this operation. 

                 The nature of the operation and the presence of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is -- personalities or activists have to be determined.  But we do know that the parliamentarian candidate is wounded and 10 are killed.  We are investigating it.  And as it turns out, we will then share the information with our allies, the United States and NATO.

                 At this point, that's the information on the ground that we have.

                 Al-Jazeera.

                 Q     (Name inaudible) -- from Al-Jazeera English.  My first question would be for Mr. Secretary. 

                 Sir, I think we are hearing two different things from yourself, sir, and from President Obama.  The night before, President Obama in a speech said that we cannot fight a war which is open-ended, that we will start going out of Afghanistan.  If it is true, if it's the policy of United States, then we are coming back to 2004, when Taliban are having the famous saying that "Americans have the watch, we have the time."

                               Then why Americans are deciding to leave then?  It's that the situation has got better, or you think it will get better by then?  Why even United States president is talking about it?  Because the situation gets worse here every day.  And that news which has come from the United States, it brings panic among the Afghan. 

                 Mostly, you're expecting President Karzai to fight about corruption.  If a government official knows in one year time there will be no Americans, we are not sure if Afghan government will be or not, then why that guy shouldn't be corrupt?  He will take as much money as he can and run away to make sure that he has a Plan B.  That all this news which comes from the United States weakens the government. 

                 I hope you will give me that answer.

                 And Mr. President --

                 SEC. GATES:  I will.  I'll be very happy to give you an answer.

                 Q     Sorry.  Mr. President, my second question.

                 PRESIDENT KARZAI:  One question at a time.

                 Q     Just a --

                 SEC. GATES:  It's one per customer.

                 Q     These past days we are hearing all these leaked stories.  Mostly it comes from America, which has sometimes claimed the Afghan government -- some Afghan government official are corrupt, sometimes -- (inaudible).  Why is that?  Is that related to this new decree that you signed about private security company?  Why this pressure is now?

                 SEC. GATES:  Okay. 

                 First of all, Americans will still be here after July 2011.  The president has been very clear that that is the beginning of a process and that the pace of that process will be determined by conditions on the ground here in Afghanistan.

                 It is important for the -- let's be honest about this.  The United States is spending over a billion -- over a hundred billion dollars a year in this fight in Afghanistan.  America's sons and daughters are being wounded and killed.  The American people need to know that 15 years from now we are not still going to be fighting this fight. 

                 That said, the reality is we are looking at a long-term relationship with Afghanistan and we have the confidence that the progress we are making jointly with our Afghan partners and our other allies will allow us to begin a transition to Afghan security control beginning within the next year.  President Karzai has talked about Afghanistan being able to take responsibility for its security overall by 2014.

                 So I think these are not incompatible views.  And we will continue to have forces here after July 2011.  We will continue to have a long-term security, economic partnership, political relationship with Afghanistan.  As I have said before, we learned our lesson in turning our back on Afghanistan in 1989, and we have no intention of doing so again.

                 PRESIDENT KARZAI:  On the leaks and the allegations coming from parts of the U.S. press, Secretary Gates and I discussed this issue today in our meeting, both as two governments and also as personal friends.  And we engaged in a detailed conversation about this.

                 Whatever is happening is unfortunate.  Whether it is happening from the United States towards Afghanistan in the press or from Afghanistan towards the United States in the press is unfortunate.  It is not helping the cause at all.  And we should try our best to be focused more on the strategic objective we have than to be engaged in this daily bickering in the press.

                 On the issue of the private security firms, the decision of the Afghan government is final and conclusive.  We have been engaging with our partners on these security firms for the last four years at least in a very dedicated and concerted manner.  The presence of security firms is not only adding to the problems of corruption in Afghanistan, the problems of lawlessness in Afghanistan and lots of other affectations natively towards the Afghan state and people, but they're also running a pattern structured  to Afghanistan government.  In the presence of private security firms, we will not have an effective growth on Afghan police force on the Afghan security forces.  So they are almost a parallel government to Afghanistan.  And therefore, we have decided after long deliberation with our allies the United States and others that we cannot sustain them anymore in our country.  And I am glad to tell you that the United States is making this decision with us and will see to it that it is implemented.

                 Of course, we must make sure that the premises of the diplomatic missions in Afghanistan, the premises of the various international entities in Afghanistan, their movements from place to place and all other security concerns that they have should be addressed and within the premises and within the confines of those areas, by the security firms within certain procedures and laws, but on the highways, on the roads of the country and in the communities of Afghanistan, the security firms will definitely end to exist in four months' time. 

                 And we've communicated that to our NATO allies and to our friends in the United States.  There is an understanding on that, and we will work together to get it done. 

                 Press issues, of course, something that are of concern to us.  Unfortunately, the press is causing a lot more damage to the cause that we have and to the -- (inaudible) -- and strong relationship that we have than any other real or non-real problem that exists.

                 SEC. GATES:  Julian Barnes.

                 Q     Mr. Secretary, after Mr. Karzai's decision to release his aide from jail after corruption allegations were made, and after Mr. Karzai's criticism and scrutiny of the anti-corruption task forces, how can you be assured that the president has changed his attitude to fighting corruption?

                 SEC. GATES:  I think that the key here is that the fight against corruption needs to be Afghan-led.  This is a sovereign country, its government elected by its people.  And we think that organizations such as the major crimes task force and the special investigations unit are important, but they need to be run under Afghan auspices.  We are willing to provide whatever help we can, and we believe that the investigative roles of these units need to have credibility in the international community.

                 President Karzai and I discussed that, and I believe I can speak for him in saying that we agreed on those principles.

                 PRESIDENT KARZAI:  I'd like to add to Secretary Gates's remarks on the -- these task force(s).  When I established these task forces, some of them some years ago, the rest recently, my belief was that they were acting within Afghan laws and within the proper regulations and concerns of human rights.

                 On the case of Mr. Salehi, on which, by the way, the Afghan government instructed an investigation after we received news from the attorney general that the national security adviser allowed the attorney general's office to investigate the matter and to question the gentleman concerned.

                 So was this -- this permission was given to go ahead with the investigation.  The next morning, I learned from the national security adviser, and the deputy national security adviser, in the afternoon, that rather than having him investigated and questioned, a force of about 30 gunmen barged on his house at night, surrounded the locality, frightened the community living around there, the neighbors, and trying to forcefully take him out of his house in a manner exactly reminiscent of the days of the Soviet prisons in Afghanistan. 

                 Those days, military, armed people would go to people's homes, take them away in the name of the state on charges -- various charges and would take them to unknown locations and then investigate them in some form of -- (inaudible) -- and imprisoned them, or some of them even disappeared.

                               When I learned the manner of the arrest, I was extremely concerned and very angered, because the last thing I want for Afghanistan, for us, is to be an abusive state structure of the rights of our people or to look as if we are here in a bandit's manner rather than a lawful state manner. 

                 As for his release, I intervened to have him released because the arrest was illegally done, wrongfully done, and that -- and according to our laws nullifies the whole -- the whole procedure of investigation. 

                 And when we looked deeper into the case when he -- when he was released and when he wrote his complaint later to the national security adviser detailing the manner of his arrest, detailing the way he was treated and detaining -- detailing that the detention place and the investigative procedures were run by foreign elements and were not in accordance to the Afghan laws and that there were serious concerns of human rights abuses where people were chained, leg(s) and arms, where people were chained around their bodies, this frightened me, it being a police state of the most abusive manner. 

                 So I ordered an investigation into the functioning of these two bodies, and found out that they were not based on Afghan laws.  Now I have given another instruction that will provide a statutory basis for these bodies, that will work in accordance with Afghan laws, in respect of human rights of the Afghan people and with transparency and with Afghan sovereignty over the complete Afghan sovereignty. 

                 This Secretary Gates and I discussed.  And I was very happy to recognize that Secretary Gates fully endorsed the idea of these bodies to be seen as Afghan bodies, but of course credible and internationally accepted and recognized and independent in our joint struggle against corruption.

                 Q     But, Mr. President, do you understand that your actions of the last month in a -- have caused some in America, much of the American public to think that you're not serious about fighting corruption?  How can you in the weeks to come show you’re serious?

                 PRESIDENT KARZAI:  Good question.

                 PRESIDENT KARZAI:  Well, unfortunately the press did not convey--depict--depict it properly.  The American public sees the press that they see, and not the reality in Afghanistan.  And if you do the job of conveying the concerns of the Afghan people -- and me as the president of this country to work towards building an Afghanistan, with the help of the United States and our other allies, that is a state based on proper laws and regulations, that is a lawful state, not an abusive police state.  We should fight corruption, but corruption has to be fought -- we believe, and correctly -- not in a manner of banditry or in violation of the rights of the people.

                 (Inaudible.)

                 Q     (Through interpreter.)  Thank you, Mr. President.  The -- over the last days, the government of Afghanistan has talked about the change in the strategy of war on terror with the United States.  You said you talked with Secretary Gates, but you didn't give us enough clarification on what discussions did you have, and specifically on that -- rethink -- strategy. 

                 And unfortunately we have also seen recently a tension in the relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan.  The U.S. press is -- unfortunately is spreading out some reports that are not favorable to Afghanistan, to the people of Afghanistan.  Do you think these things can help improve relations between the two countries?  And one of the reports which was recently published in an American report was about Kabul Bank's possibility of collapse.

                 PRESIDENT KARZAI:  (Through interpreter.)  About the strategic relations -- about the strategic relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan, and the demand of Afghanistan of a rethink or of a review into the counterterrorism strategy, we had detailed discussion with Secretary Gates, and earlier we also raised this issue with President Obama.

                 So there were indications on the safe havens that Secretary Gates made about -- but -- which is one of the demands of the Afghan people, of course.  He had a clear reference to those sanctuaries the terrorists continue to enjoy.

                 There were also other dimensions of our discussions that touched upon the need for the review of the strategy and the approach.  So Secretary Gates also talked about it. 

                 There is concurrence and  -- in the view of the need -- and I hope we could also work together -- for the implementation and for putting into practice that common view.

                 And about the press that you asked, already I answered a question on the Western press.  But to answer you, Afghanistan is happy with international presence here in Afghanistan, with the assistance they're making, led by the United States.  This has been the opportunity for Afghanistan to revive its economy and to redevelop its infrastructure and to -- and to -- and to bring those -- all good things back to Afghanistan.  And Kabul Bank is the biggest private bank in Afghanistan that handles the transactions of both government and nongovernment.  And though we support a strengthened free market economy, we should -- we were also -- timed to monitoring, to supervise -- whether they comply with Afghanistan's rules and regulations.  And we will continue to introduce reforms in the private sector that include banking system as well.

                 We have been monitoring all the -- (inaudible) -- and their activities for so long, and a few days ago we began to introduce a number of reforms into all the private banks to avoid any mismanagement in the -- in the financial institutions.  I instructed the governor of the central bank to work with that private bank to introduce those reforms that include the appointment of new management -- new people at the management level. 

                 We deemed necessary that we take action immediately, but if that Western press is -- print out our decisions in a negative way and in a provocative way, it's sad to hear that.  It's unfortunate. 

                 But the Kabul Bank is safe.  People don't have to panic.  People should not be worried.  The government of Afghanistan is fully behind that bank, which is the largest bank of Afghanistan.  The Ministry of Finance today, I believe, released some -- between $100 (million) and $150 million to -- from the bank to handle the payments and the salaries of our government employees, as usual, and it will continue to function, to operate.  And there is over 250,000 civil servants and employees of Afghanistan get their salaries through the Kabul Bank.  So people don't need to be worried.  People should be -- I'd reassure the people; we've got enough cash to support the bank.  I think we've got at least $4.8 billion in cash.  Even if the whole financial system in Afghanistan collapses, we still have the money to support it.  So people don't have to be worried.

                 But again, the reforms have to be introduced, and then these will improve the performance of those banks.

                 Q     (Off mike.)

                 PRESIDENT KARZAI:  I think these frank words harm both the countries, the relations between both the countries, because this certainly strikes fear in both the -- in the publics of both the countries.  This will certainly affect the strategy of the U.S. in Afghanistan. 

                 We have a common view, an understanding of the situation.  But in the implementations of strategies and actions, there could be some differences of opinions or views.  We have had a full discussion -- all those little things.  Mr. Secretary is -- agrees with us on those little things.  But how media uses that is absolutely different issue and has nothing to do with any disagreement or difference of opinion, because we have common view.  But I think the government of Afghanistan, the U.S. embassy and all matter U.S. officials will help us go towards a better future.

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