U.S. Official Speeches and Interviews
Secretary Janet Napolitano Department of Homeland Security
January 1, 2011 | U.S. Embassy, Kabul, Afghanistan
Secretary Napolitano: First of all, Happy New Year to everyone, and best wishes for a happy, healthy and prosperous 2011.
I've had had a very productive day, a little bit over a day now in Afghanistan. A number of meetings yesterday, but I came down to see how our civilian lash-up is going.
As you know, the Department of Homeland Security is providing support to Afghanistan on things like border, border control, port, port management, investigations on things like smuggling and the like. So to meet with our team that's here, to meet with Afghanis with whom we are working has been one purpose of my visit.
I also just had the pleasure of meeting with a number of women leaders in Afghanistan to talk about some of the challenges that they are confronting and the progress that they are making which is substantial. And of course I'll be meeting later today with President Karzai and the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Interior, among others. So I think it should be a very very productive two days in Afghanistan.
With that, why don't I open it for questions that you might have.
Question: [Washington Post]. As you know, the relationship between Washington and Kabul has been rocky from time to time. Do you come with any special message for Afghan officials here? And how would you characterize the current state of relations between the administration and the Karzai government?
Secretary Napolitano: I think we can say there's been a great deal of progress made here in Afghanistan and one of the reasons I am here is that transition from military to civilian, particularly in areas like border, border control, customs, the generation of revenue from customs which is a large part of the non-foreign assistance portion of the economy of Afghanistan. So how that should be and can be managed. And to provide that level of expertise and support during the current process in Afghanistan.
So I would say that there is a perception that real progress is being made here and has been made in the last nine months.
Question: [AFP]. I think you went to see the Torkham border crossing yesterday with Pakistan. Obviously that's such a huge and porous border with Pakistan and Afghanistan and a very politically sensitive one. To what extent are you satisfied with the current controls that are in place, and what kind of more work would you like to see being done?
Secretary Napolitano: I did look particularly at the port at Torkham which is a very important port for a whole number of reasons. We have Americans who are working there and providing advice.
Some of this becomes very very practical in nature. How do you arrange in-bound versus out-bound lanes? How do you make sure that you can check trucks? How do you employ the right kind of equipment in the right way?
As I came and looked at it, it was primarily to see what kind of port is there. You want to drive traffic into the actual ports and the ports have to operate on a real-time basis. Given that the United States operates some of the largest land ports in the world if not the largest land ports in the world, we have a great deal I think of expertise that we can lend to the effort.
Question: [Shamshad TV]. Could you explain what were the main challenges in 2010 for the international community in Afghanistan, especially for the United States of America?
Secretary Napolitano: That's a very narrow question. [Laughter].
I think one of the, not challenges, I would say, but one of the evolutions, and this was reaffirmed in Lisbon, and I was in Lisbon for those meetings, is the transformation from military assistance to really civilian, and making sure that that transition is going as smoothly as possible.
Question: [New York Times]. Are you looking at issues around poppy cultivation and the movement of drugs over the border insofar as it helps to finance the insurgency?
Secretary Napolitano: Yes. Or criminal activity in general, not just insurgency.
We have, for example, individuals here from ICE who are experts in bulk cash, bulk cash smuggling and how that intersects with the drug trade and how it is used to finance lots of different types of criminal activity. So yes, I did have a country team meeting this morning, and talked with our ICE individuals who are here who are working on that topic.
Question: Can you talk at all about strategies?
Secretary Napolitano: I prefer not to in public, but I will say that in the drug trade generally, you can talk about Afghanistan or you can talk about Mexico or South America, the relationship between drug trade and cash and bulk cash, how you deal with the cash generated from drug sales is one of the real challenges. It's actually one of the real opportunities for law enforcement to intervene and disrupt, and that's really our goal, is to intervene and disrupt.
Ambassador Eikenberry: Secretary, also that there has been a significant increase in our capabilities on the ground provided by DHS.
Secretary Napolitano: That's right. And there will be more. There will be more DHS personnel arriving in the next months.
Question: [VOA]. How much Pakistan tribal area, that side of border, is more a threat to U.S. Homeland Security?
Secretary Napolitano: That's really not the purpose of my visit here. I'm here to talk about Afghanistan and what we're doing with Afghanistan to make sure that there is a smooth transition to civilian, particularly where security and law enforcement are concerned.
Question: [Radio Azadi]. Thank you very much. Happy New Year and welcome to Afghanistan.
What are your new programs for bigger strengthening of Afghan border police and border options for better security program in Afghanistan? And what will be the main agenda of your discussion or meeting with President Karzai today?
Secretary Napolitano: Actually when I came to Afghanistan I brought with me several members of the United States Border Patrol. One of the things I think they will be doing is intersecting with training opportunities for border police.
Policing at a border, border protection, is not the same as being say an inner-city police officer. There are obviously different techniques involved, different tactics, different laws oftentimes, and so I think being able to participate and help design that training for this border is very important.
Part of national sovereignty is the ability to protect one's borders. It can be the border with Pakistan, it can be the border with any of the other countries that surround Afghanistan.
Border protection also then leads to customs and the ability to facilitate legitimate trade, commerce that needs to happen here. And the generation of revenue from that. Of course when you do that then you're really involved in having the resources necessary that go into education and social services and the like. So all of these things get tied together in very fundamental ways.
Question: [Wall Street Journal]. I was wondering, it seems like Afghanistan's neighbors constantly close down the borders whenever there is some sort of political disagreement, it's just a whim. In order to both strengthen customs revenue and cross-border cooperation, what kind of agreements can you maybe see signed between Afghanistan and its neighbors? Because it's quite vital for both Afghanistan to get proper revenue from customs and also to combat opium and cash smuggling, things like this.
Secretary Napolitano: I think that might be a question better addressed, actually, to the Ambassador in terms of the cross-national agreements that exist. But you're right to point out that effective borders require cooperation on both sides. Just to operate a port requires cooperation on both sides, particularly a land port. Those kinds of things are all part of the evolution that will need to occur and part of the transition that will be happening here. I'm very confident.
You had another question.
Question: I wanted to ask about the issue of corruption. You said a lot of the work you're doing here is of a practical nature, but here one of the biggest problems, not unlike Mexico and Colombia, is that you have a lot of high-level involvement in all kinds of things. Just look at customs revenue. You've had two major warlords who have been controlling and keeping a lot of customs revenues here for years in terms of narcotics, anti-narcotics and anti-corruption, you've had officials tasked with dealing with those issues who have turned out to be corrupt.
Secretary Napolitano: Right.
Question: Can you talk about that issue and the challenge it presents to you when you're trying to help them, but some of them are part of the problem?
Secretary Napolitano: First of all, the growth in the number of vetted units is very important. By vetted what I mean is properly trained and polygraphed units. Those are units then that we will work with and be working with in terms of some of the investigations that we will be helping with, for example, on bulk cash smuggling.
One of the things I'm asking about is the number of vetted units, what's necessary to be able to increase that number as we move forward. Then to identify the resources necessary to do that. But that's also something we work on with the government of Mexico which is increasing the number of vetted units that we work with, particularly on the cross-border trade. It's also what we work on with a number of other countries. That's where you start, then you build from there.
I think there are also some unique training opportunities that we can provide both in country and potentially in the United States for customs and border protection which is somewhat different, as I like to say, than being a street cop. I'm a former prosecutor myself, so I've worked with the whole continuum. I can appreciate the differences, so I can appreciate the differences in training and training opportunities and equipment and the like that are necessary for border security, customs, customs security versus your standard law enforcement work.
Question: It seems like you're working on many different things here on this trip. Is there one thing that you see as key? Is there one thing that you're focusing on that you feel will really advance the agenda of homeland security here?
Secretary Napolitano: I think the number one thing I'm focused on, quite frankly, are the men and women that we've sent and the skill sets of the men and women that we need to -- We're going to contribute numbers. We've already agreed as the transition is made from military to civilian that we will be increasing the numbers of DHS personnel that we send to Afghanistan. So one of the number one things I want to leave with is an appreciation of what, of the hundreds of skill sets we have in DHS which, after all, is now the third largest department of the United States government, of the hundreds of skill sets within our department, what are the most needed here? And to make sure that that's included in the next wave of individuals that we send over.
Question: Can you talk about numbers at all?
Secretary Napolitano: We're going to be at 25 very shortly. We were at 11 last year, so we're going to be at 25, and I think soon to be -- When I say soon, within the year, to be at 65 and perhaps higher.
Thank you all very much.
Ambassador Eikenberry: On the issue that you were talking about, [inaudible].
Secretary Napolitano: -- border, numbers.
Ambassador Eikenberry: U.S. policy is to help Afghanistan promote good relations with all of its neighbors, and critical for the government of Afghanistan is finding ways to improve security in law enforcements along all of its borders. We help with those efforts.
Secondly, to take advantage of Afghanistan's central location in Central and South Asia, and to help open up the borders so Afghanistan can serve as a central hub for regional trade and with great export potential in agriculture and in some natural resources.
So on the U.S. government side, the mission side, we work in both of those areas. Examples: First of all in security and law enforcement. You're aware that we have trilateral talks between Afghanistan, Pakistan and ourselves. The next trilateral talks will take place in Washington, D.C., tentatively at the end of February at foreign ministers level.
One of the working groups that we have in those trilaterals is law enforcement working groups. So these are arrangements to be made between Afghanistan and its neighbors, but wherever we can, we facilitate, we help the Afghans in building the necessary capacity.
On the economic front, as you're well aware, we've been very active in trying to help Afghanistan to promote economic trade with its neighbors. The best example of this is last fall when the historic Afghanistan-Pakistan Trade Agreement was signed both in Islamabad and subsequently in Kabul. Bilateral relation. Its potential is enormous to increase trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan, but also very importantly, to increase Pakistan's potential trade throughout Central Asia using Afghanistan as transit; and for Afghanistan in turn to increase its trade to India eventually. Those are the kind of initiatives where the United States and our embassy and Washington, D.C., we work hard to do what we can to try to facilitate those arrangements and agreements.
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