SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: Ministers, ladies and gentlemen, let me welcome you all to the third meeting of the Afghanistan Security Consultation Forum. This is our third meeting and the first one that I've had the honor to participate in, and I look forward to it.
Minister Wardak, Minister Mohammadi, we welcome you back to Washington, D.C. I also believe that -- it is truly a pleasure and privilege to see both of you here after our last meeting in Kabul. I had the chance to meet with both of you in Kabul, and many of the issues that we will discuss today are issues that we discussed in Kabul. And so I look forward that continuing discussion with both of you.
I want to -- I want to extend my congratulations to both of you on the progress that the Afghan forces and the Afghan police are making. I have often stated that I believe 2011 was a turning point, that we suddenly were able to see that the Afghan army and police develop the capabilities to provide security and have developed capabilities to implement the kind of operations that are necessary to providing security. And the fact that they have been able to do that is in many ways a compliment to both of you for your leadership and for the leadership of the Afghanistani officials that have had a responsibility to ensure that you are able to develop the kind of security operations that are essential to our ability to make the transition.
I also want to congratulate both of you for the work that was done on developing the very important MOUs on detention and also on night raid operations, special operations. The fact that we were able to achieve an agreement, I think, was a very important step forward to ensure that we will make the transition to Afghan operations, but we will do it in a responsible and effective way. And I thank both of you for the leadership that you've provided in being able to achieve those very important agreements.
We also recognize the sacrifices that your forces have made. ISAF forces, the United States, all of us have endured sacrifices, and we have seen that many of our brave men and women in uniform have in fact given their lives in this war. And I've had the opportunity to get to speak to many of their loved ones and send messages to their loved ones indicating that -- not only our sorrow but the fact that they gave their lives fighting for what they believed in.
And Afghani troops have done the same thing. Many Afghanistanis have lost their lives in fighting for what they believe in, in the hope that you would one day have a country that you could truly call your own, a sovereign country that can secure and govern itself.
And ultimately that's the goal we all seek. It's the goal of the United States, it's the goal of Afghanistan to achieve an Afghanistan that can govern and secure itself.
This forum is an effort to move forward in trying to achieve those goals. So it's another milestone in the important effort to strengthen our partnership, not only now but beyond 2014.
I look forward in this forum to discussing the future of the ANSF, the levels that you will achieve in terms of a surge and ultimately the levels that you can sustain in the future. I look forward to discussing our strategic partnership and our ability to arrive at a strategic partnership agreement, which will again be another important step forward in our relationship, and also the regional security challenges that we will have to continue to confront in order to ultimately have a sovereign Afghanistan that can in fact be secure and govern itself.
We look forward to continuing to work with you, and I'm confident that, as we work with you, we can achieve our shared goal and help your people be able to have a sovereign Afghanistan that can truly govern and secure itself and that can ensure that, never again, will it become a safe haven for those who tried to attack and were successful in attacking this country. That is our mutual goal: to safeguard your people and to safeguard the people of the United States of America.
Thank you for being here, and I look forward to a successful forum.
MINISTER ABDUL RAHIM WARDAK: Thank you.
Thank you Mr. Secretary. It's always a great pleasure and honor to be here among our closest allies and friends. We thank you most sincerely for inviting us to participate in this third round of U.S.-Afghanistan Security Forum. We are grateful and you have personally our utmost respect and admiration for your leadership and dedication to the status of our joint nations.
Through the U.S.'s sterling contribution, Afghanistan has been delivered from years of destruction, tyranny and oppression. And we are not an ungrateful nation.
We fully recognize your generosity. We acknowledge and honor your sacrifices. We pay tribute to all those brave souls that have paid the ultimate price for the mission in Afghanistan, and we pray for the families of the fallen and wounded.
So allow me, Mr. Secretary that on behalf of my country, my government and the Afghan national security forces, to express our profound gratitude and everlasting appreciation for all the help, assistance, cooperation and genuine support which we have received from U.S. in our struggle for prosperity and stability in Afghanistan.
Mr. Secretary there is no doubt we are at a critical juncture. But after the years of struggle, tomorrow's goal is in sight. What matters today is our wealth. The costs have been high and the stakes even higher, but the good news is that the hope has been replaced by the real progress, though it has been dearly bought. So the continued U.S. support and cooperation will play a decisive and vital role to enable the Afghans to smoothly sail to a to a sound foundation through the transformation decade and beyond and to provide for responsibility and stability and realize the hope and dreams of the Afghan people, who have experienced nothing but miseries and suffering for several decades while they were fighting for themselves, but they have also been fighting, in the past and right now, for the collective freedom of the humanity.
And Mr. Secretary, no one should have any doubt on our firm determination to succeed. It's a question of our national survival. And we do not wish to be a burden on the U.S. or the rest of the international community more than it is required.
So we assure you that we will spare no effort and sacrifices to ensure the inevitability of our victory in this joint endeavor. And we are looking forward to our enduring and long-term partnership. We consider it vital for the survival of our country in that very volatile and dangerous neighborhood.
We thank you Mr. Secretary for inviting us, and we will take the opportunity to further elaborate the issues which will help us to go forward. You have come a long way on this difficult journey with us, so I'm sure that you will stay with us to our final destination.
SEC. PANETTA: Thank you, Mr. Minister.
MINISTER GENERAL BISMELLAH KHAN MOHAMMADI: (Through interpreter.) On my own behalf, I would also like to thank you for hosting the third round of the security consultation. And I thank you for your kind invitation and it’s an honor to be here with you. And also allow me to express my sincerest gratitude for all of the sacrifices, lost lives and treasures of this country that have been sacrificed for our mutual goals for the survival of our nation in Afghanistan. I do thank you and I offer my condolences to you and to the families of all of those who have lost their loved ones.
As you said, during the past decade we have had many successes, many accomplishments, particularly during the last year, vis-a-vis security advancements. We have seen many victories in southern Afghanistan, in eastern Afghanistan, in all of Afghanistan. This visit that we have embarked upon during a time of destiny, during a time that we're going through a transitional processes.
As you said, this involves having capabilities of conducting night raids, and slowly but surely we have seen a decrease in the presence of security contracting firms, and we do hope that this ongoing cooperation, the strategic collaboration will bring many successes and is signed as soon as possible.
The third round of the security consultation takes place at a time when, next year the start of the transition process from NATO forces to Afghan security forces will start to take place. I am certain that these face-to-face meetings that we have in this framework of the security consultation forum will pave the way for a successful conference in Chicago, and we do hope that the Chicago conference and the decisions that are made there will affect security in Afghanistan towards reaching and bring the scenario towards reaching our mutual national goals.
I do thank all of your unconditional generosity, all of the aid that you have rendered to Afghan national security forces, and we do hope that, shoulder to shoulder, we can reach, sooner rather than later, our mutual objectives.
Thank you so very much.