Joint Press Conference with Secretary Gates and President Karzai from Kabul, Afghanistan
(Note: President Karzai’s remarks are provided through an interpreter.)
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Ladies and gentlemen, varied media members, especially our visiting American friends, I thank you very much for your attendance. And we are honored to have today with us a friend of Afghanistan, and who is here to help us in going towards a better Afghanistan. And we are honored to welcome his excellency Secretary Gates to Kabul.
I don’t know if it is his 10th or 11th or 12th visit to Afghanistan. He’s been here for the past two nights, and he’s been making an assessment of the situation in Afghanistan. And we had constructive discussion on the situation in Afghanistan, and with particular focus on the transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces, on the reconstruction and the rebuilding of Afghanistan. And we believe our discussions have been very successful.
And I once again welcome him to Afghanistan, and we hope for continued cooperation.
SECRETARY GATES: Thank you, Mr. President, for those kind words. I also would like to thank you for once again hosting me at the palace tonight. President Obama was deeply disappointed that the weather kept him from coming to Kabul and meeting personally with you last week.
Tonight, President Karzai and I had good discussions about progress that Afghan and coalition forces are making, and bringing security to the Afghan people, a discussion that I look forward to continuing this evening over dinner.
A year ago this week, I flew to Kabul to meet with President Karzai and to begin working together to implement a new strategy. We said then that this effort would be challenging, and it has been.
But thanks to 65,000 newly trained Afghan security forces, 30,000 additional U.S. troops and 10,000 more coalition forces, our joint efforts are paying off. The bottom line is that in the last 12 months, we’ve come a long way. Frankly, progress -- the -- even just in the last few months has exceeded my expectations. The Taliban control far less territory than they did when I spoke here one year ago, and as a result, more and more Afghan people are able to live without being terrorized and are instead focusing on achieving a better life for themselves and their families.
As you know, I spent yesterday and today getting a ground-level view of our shared efforts across the country. Our troops are cooperating together at an extraordinary pace in areas where we did not operate a year ago, and with Afghan forces increasingly in the lead. In fact, where I visited today in the south, Afghan soldiers make up 60 percent of the fighting forces and are performing admirably.
As we expected and warned, the coalition and Afghan forces are suffering more casualties, but there is no denying that the security climate is improving and that the sacrifices of Afghan and coalition troops are achieving greater safety and security for both our nations.
As the Taliban are weakened, so too are the chances diminished that al-Qaeda could return to Afghanistan and again plan attacks against the United States and others. Still, there is clearly more work to be done. There is much more to do in promoting stronger governance and economic development.
President Karzai and I talked tonight about how we can partner more closely on the ground on the development side, ensuring that international efforts more consistently reflect the needs, desires and priorities of Afghans, and with Afghan involvement in development decisions, decisions that must always take into account and recognize Afghan sovereignty. This would replicate our approach to achieving security gains by increasingly having Afghans in the lead. Ultimately, I am confident we can achieve more gains as we work closely together with President Karzai and his government and our international partners.
As I return to Washington, the United States government will be finishing work on an evaluation of the situation here. I will go back convinced that our strategy is working and that we will be able to achieve the key goals laid out by President Obama last year, further embraced by other NATO heads of state in Lisbon -- that is, for Afghan forces to begin taking the security lead, as they have in Kabul and more and more areas in the coming year, and for the Afghan government to take the lead for security responsibility for all of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, a goal first set out by President Karzai.
I want to emphasize that, as President Obama has stated, the commitment of the United States to the people of Afghanistan is resolute and enduring. We are working together to -- on a joint vision 2015 that will set the framework for this long-term partnership. We share our partner President Karzai’s vision for a strong and secure Afghanistan and believe our joint 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, sir.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: (In English.) You’re welcome, Mr. Secretary. Most welcome.
Would you like to be the -- ?
SECRETARY GATES: All right. Elizabeth.
Q: Yes. President Karzai --
STAFF: Can you take the mic, please?
SECRETARY GATES: It’s right behind you.
Q: Thank you. Yes, President Karzai has been described in a trove of secret diplomatic American cables as erratic, problematic; and by -- and described by the American ambassador as not a reliable ally. Are those assessments incorrect? And how embarrassing is this for the United States?
SECRETARY GATES: Well, I would say that the WikiLeaks and -- leak -- revelation of all of these documents is extraordinarily embarrassing for the United States. But at the end of the day, nations make -- and leaders make decisions based on their interests. And I would say that America’s best partners and friends -- and I include among them President Karzai -- have responded to this, in my view, in an extraordinarily statesmanlike way. And I’m deeply grateful. And frankly, I think the American government will not forget this kind of statesmanlike response.
I think I also could say, with great confidence, President Karzai and I have been meeting together privately now for four years, and I don’t think either of us would be embarrassed to have a single thing we have said to each other made public.
So this relationship will go on, because it’s in our interests, and we have a shared vision for this country.
Q: (Through interpreter.) Thank you. From Wakh Agency. My question is to Secretary Gates. Now that the U.S. and the international community has recognized that security in Afghanistan means eliminating terrorist hideouts in Pakistan, why have they not been serious enough in eliminating and wiping out those hideouts? And how will that affect your strategy in the region?
And my question to President Karzai is, despite controversy between the attorney general office and the elections -- Independent Elections Commission, how will you go ahead with your -- with inaugurating the new parliament?
SECRETARY. GATES: Well, first of all, I think it’s important to recognize that in the last 18 months or so, there have been nearly 140,000 Pakistani troops operating in the northwestern part of Pakistan to try and deal with the insurgent and terrorists out there. And we are increasingly cooperating, and one of the more positive developments, in my view, in recent times has been the growing contact and dialogue, first of all between the government of Afghanistan and the government of Pakistan but also that dialogue including us. And I would say that’s taking place not only on the political level, including the recent visit of the Pakistani prime minister here to see the president, but also in the increasingly frequent tripartite meetings among our military leaders -- Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States and the international coalition.
So I think there’s a common understanding that the safe havens are a threat, and they’re a threat to both governments, the government of Pakistan as well as the government of Afghanistan. And so I think the growing partnering and coordination of military operations on both sides of the border between forces, between Afghan forces, Pakistani forces and ISAF, is a very important and positive development.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: On the next parliament, the inauguration of the next lower house, Afghanistan’s president is bound by the constitutional provisions and will stick to it and will remain bound by those provisions.
And the attorney general will continue to hear complaints that are very relevant, but my duty as the president of the country is to act based on the constitution, whatever serves the interests of Afghanistan and what I’m legally allowed to do. This is the response.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: (In English.) Secretary Gates, I think it’s your turn. No, you choose one, I choose other.
SECRETARY GATES: Gregg.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: (In English.) You can also try the Afghans sometimes. They’re very good. (Laughter.)
SECRETARY GATES: But then the Americans would get angry at me.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: (In English.) Well, I’ll do that. (Laughter.)
Q As Secretary Gates indicated, U.S. and Afghan officials have both said that the training of Afghan security forces over the past year has gone better than projected. Does this mean that the government of Afghanistan could possibly take primary responsibility for its security before the end of 2014?
And President Karzai, could you explain further why you chose 2014 as a transition date? To what degree did this have any -- was this done to de-emphasize President Obama’s promise to begin withdrawing U.S. forces this July?
SECRETARY: Well, first of all, I would say -- I think there’s a certain misimpression that the transition to Afghan lead across the country will only take place at the end of 2014. First of all, this is a process that has already begun. The Afghan government and security forces already have the primary responsibility for security here in the Kabul area. And we expect to begin that transition, as NATO said, early next spring in other areas.
So this will be a process that spreads nationwide over time and will lead to a drawdown over that period of foreign forces in Afghanistan as the Afghans are able to take increasing lead. It will be gradual and it will be -- it will depend on the conditions on the ground.
But this is a process that will go on throughout this period, that’s already begun, and that will conclude at the end of 2014. It isn’t something that happens just at the end of 2014.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: (In English.) With regard to the abilities of the Afghan army and police, with regard to the training of the Afghan army, the number of soldiers that we have, the number of young officers under training and the older generation of officers, the country’s doing very, very well.
Having said doing very, very well, we should not be misled by the facts today. Afghanistan would continue to require much more training, especially where we absolutely need to turn our army into an institution that can stay beyond the direct engagement of the international community, that can sustain itself as an institution, that has an officers cadre that is intellectually well equipped, that is -- that has settled down as an institution, like you have in the United States or Britain or India or, for that matter, Pakistan, as well.
Now, adding to this, of equal importance, I believe, is the equipping of the army. Right now we are equipped with vital weapons and the other day General Petraeus showed me in our regular weekly security meetings. I don’t know, is that a secret, or is that supposed to be -- (laughter) -- okay -- showed me --
SECRETARY: Not anymore. (Laughs; laughter)
PRESIDENT KARZAI: Not anymore. Not anymore. Well, they shouldn’t share things like that with presidents, you know. We are WikiLeaks -- we --. (Laughter.) That the Afghan army will be given thousands of armored vehicles and personnel-carrier vehicles.
Of course, for us to be a fundamentally strong country with an army that can defend itself and that can be an ally with you in the United States, we would require much more: a proper air power, proper mobility of our forces and an equipment that will be good enough to sustain our country as far as security is concerned.
On the 2014 date, this wasn’t designed to preempt any other date. This was talked of as being the proper date by which we would have trained ourselves and equipped ourselves; proper enough so to take on the responsibility for securing our country.
Q: (Through translator.) From Bakhtar TV, my question is to Mr. Secretary.
You have -- you said the fight will be tough ahead and the next years you’ll be fighting a tough war. But you said -- you’ve made progress, but you said difficult days are lying ahead, and after 2014, when the war would be tough, while Afghans wouldn’t be ready by then completely, it’s believed. Do you think that the Afghan forces would be able to reach that level of providing for its own capacity to stop any of those threats that could turn out to be a threat against the U.S.?
And Mr. President, in the WikiLeaks it’s been said that as your chief of staff has admitted and has acknowledged receiving bags of cash from Iran, and they might have influenced even the parliament to change their subject of discussions as well.
SECRETARY: Well, first of all, I think that we have to understand that the future here is not just about military operations. It’s about economic development, and it’s about political reconciliation, at the end of the day.
We think, based on the progress that’s been made over the past year, that the Afghan security forces are making extraordinary strides. And it’s not just in the added numbers, but it’s in the increased quality of our partners that we gain increased confidence.
As President Karzai said, over the next several years we need to work together in terms of properly equipping the Afghan forces so they will be able to sustain themselves. But I think -- I think the important thing -- first of all, I think we’re -- we believe that the security situation will be improved to the extent that in 2014 the Afghan security forces will be able to have the lead, as they do here in Kabul, across the entire country.
I made reference in my prepared remarks to the "vision 2015" agreement that we’re working on. The United States intends to continue to be a partner and ally of Afghanistan beyond 2014. We expect the same kind of normal security relationship that we have with many countries in terms of providing training and in terms of equipping and so on. So the United States is -- while we will draw down our security forces over the years to come, we intend to be here and be a long-term friend and ally to this country.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: I didn’t understand your question very well on -- (inaudible) -- contributions or cash. After Mr. Daudzai I admitted there were other reports that -- without the cash that your office admitted. There were other also cash assistance from Iran trying to influence the agenda -- the overall agenda in Afghanistan, including that in the parliament to raise subjects of and to -- (inaudible) -- subjects.
So it is -- is that -- are you talking about the other money that we said we had received? Okay. I don’t think Mr. Daudzai, my chief of staff, has said anything like that. This is not true. There’s no truth in this. Because Iran, as we said, once a year and recently twice a year, made some cash assistance. And no extra cash was made. If there was made any, we would certainly let you know. But no, it was just that.
And on the reports or your question about their assistance to the Afghan parliament, we have no official confirmation of such reports, I believe. And we treat them as rumors, and there is nothing -- no truth about whatever they have done to the president’s office.
Q: (Through translator.) Thank you Mr. President. My question is to Mr. Secretary.
The president of Afghanistan has repeatedly said that the coalition forces and the NATO forces are pursuing terrorists in the Afghan villages while the original hideouts or safe havens are across the border in Pakistan. After you hand over the responsibility by 2014, how will be the question of safe havens, their logistics, supports of the forces? How will you operate? Will you also target those safe havens across the border inside Pakistan?
Afghan forces do not enjoy good equipments. They don’t have air power and all those equipments. What commitment can you make to the Ministry of Defense so you could -- they could build their capacity to the level required?
And Mr. President, you are soon going to Turkmenistan. How would you brief us on that?
SECRETARY: Well, first of all I think that --
SECRETARY: I’m sorry?
STAFF: You want the question?
I think that the whole idea behind turning over the lead across the country to the Afghan security forces is premised on their capabilities and having not only proper training by the proper equipment to be able to do the job inside Afghanistan.
I think it’s important to observe sovereignty. And the Pakistanis clearly feel that they have a security threat in the northwestern part of their country to their own government. And so I think that as we look to the future, what’s really important is developing the kind of relationship between Afghanistan and Pakistan where each on its side of the border takes responsibility for security. And we will enable that to the extent that we possibly can.
PRESIDENT KARZAI: My trip to Turkmenistan in just a couple of days will be signing an agreement on a historical gas cooperation agreement, a number of countries, which is of great importance to Afghanistan, where Turkmenistan will benefit from its purchase of gas that will travel through Afghanistan to Pakistan and beyond. And I hope we will be able to sign an agreement between four countries. And once we do that, we will let you know the good news.