U.S. Official Speeches and Interviews
Remarks by Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and General David H. Petraeus
August 28, 2010
Ambassador Karl Eikenberry
U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan
General David H. Petraeus
Ambassador Eikenberry: Thank you Mr. Asher, and congratulations on the establishment of this wonderful facility here at the GMIC. This is impressive. It’s world class.
I’d like to begin by wishing everyone here today a blessed Ramadan. As I noted at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, Ramadan reminds us all of what --
Voice: Can you move the microphone up?
Ambassador Eikenberry: If I could, I’d like to begin Mr. Asher, just by congratulating you on the enormous success you and your organization have had in establishing this GMIC facility. This is what we call a world class facility, a lot of hard work has gone into it and you’re doing a wonderful job of helping to communicate to the Afghan people.
Let me begin then by wishing everyone here a blessed Ramadan. As I noted at the start of this holy month, Ramadan reminds us of so much that we have in common. Our commitment to justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings.
My good friend General Petraeus and I are here today to highlight some of our civilian/military efforts to support our Afghan partners, and we’re committed to helping the Afghan government to build a more stable and prosperous country.
General Petraeus has said that in Afghanistan every month is a critical month, and I completely agree with him. Now we’ve seen very impressive successes on the part of President Karzai and his administration just in the past few months. These include the Consultative Peace Jirga and of course the Kabul Conference. Now together we’re all focusing on the upcoming parliamentary elections.
The key test is whether the Afghan people will be satisfied with the progress that comes through their hard work and their incredible reputation for perseverance and their indomitable spirit.
I’m honored to be with General Petraeus in this exchange with you. I have great respect for our friends here in the Afghan media. You tell the Afghan story every day and that’s important. You have a great responsibility, and it’s one that you bear with grace during some very trying times.
I join the General in saluting the valuable contributions, to building a new and successful Afghanistan, and will welcome your questions and your insights.
General Petraeus: [Thank you] Dr. Asher and Mr. Sadiki for the kind introduction and the invitation here to this beautiful facility. As with the Ambassador, I also want to offer Ramadan greetings, noting that earlier this month I published a message on behalf of all the members of ISAF extending our very best wishes to the people of Afghanistan during this holy month of Ramadan.
Today I’d like to again offer the people of Afghanistan our continued very best wishes during this time of celebration with family and friends. It’s a pleasure indeed to be with you all in this roundtable with my good friend and diplomatic wingman Ambassador Karl Eikenberry. You all play a very important role in society for Afghanistan in helping to keep the people informed about the important topics that affect this great nation.
As you know, I intentionally did not engage the press, the media-- Afghan and international-- during my first month and a half in Afghanistan so that I could get to know the issues and assess where things stood for myself first-hand.
We began the engagement about a week ago, and it’s great to be now with all of you to discuss the partnership between civilian and military, between international and Afghan, as we seek to achieve important objectives together.
I think we all share a common vision, common objectives. A secure, stable, peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan, a country that can secure and govern itself, provide for its people, and ensure that it does not once again become a sanctuary for al-Qaida or other transnational extremists.
Those mutual objectives bring us together in an enduring strategic partnership.
I should note that over the past year and a half ISAF and U.S. forces and our civilian partners, again U.S. and international, have worked hard to get the inputs right in Afghanistan. To put in place the organizations, the leaders, the concepts, and above all the resources needed to carry out the kind of comprehensive, civil/military campaign that is needed here in Afghanistan.
During that tim, U.S. forces in Afghanistan have tripled in size, going from some 30,000 to nearly 100,000-- the number will nearly reach by the end of this month. U.S. civilian numbers here in Afghanistan have tripled during that same time, and importantly, additional funding has been provided to enable the growth of 100,000 additional Afghan national security forces. Increases have also been provided by the non-U.S. troop contributing nations and also by their civilian components.
Now we’re working on capitalizing on getting the inputs right, seeking to turn them into outputs together, of course, with our Afghan partners.
And despite innumerable challenges on the security, governance and economic fronts, we have seen some important initial gains. They have been slow and uneven but they are there in places like Helmand where the six central districts are more secure, to be sure, than they were six months ago, and where in fact voter registration took place in Marjah this past month.
Several days ago, in fact, I was in Nauzad in Helmand Province, a town of some 30,000 people before the Taliban showed up, in a town that was virtually emptied of people during their control. It now has about 10,000 people back in it. The four shops under the Taliban have expanded to 200 shops in the bazaar, and the security bubble around it has increased, but there’s a lot more work to be done.
Now the focus is, of course, expanding and shifting more and more to Kandahar City and Kandahar Province where operations have embarked in what will be a deliberate campaign over the next few months. Operations are also increasing, joint operations by Afghan and international forces, in the east where the effort has focused on the Hakani network, which of course has some sanctuaries in North Waziristan, and which has tried to carry out attacks in Kabul that have been disrupted by joint operations.
In fact I want to salute in particular the Afghan security forces in all these operations, but to single out those in Kabul. Because I’m occasionally asked by journalists from outside Afghanistan, when will the Afghan forces take the lead in security? And I say they already have in at least one-sixth of the country, right here I Kabul City. A city of some five million people in which the Afghan security forces have the lead in all but one of the districts, and where they have done an impressive job most recently in ensuring security during the Kabul Conference, during Independence Day, and during a variety of other activities.
In the months that lie ahead we will work closely with our Afghan partners in pursuit of further progress in the areas I’ve just described and also, of course, in those areas in the north and northwest where the Taliban over the course of the last year or two has created new security concerns.
And we will, of course, together support our civilian partners -- Afghan and international -- in the efforts to enable further development in the areas of governance, basic services, economics, the rules of law, and so forth.
We should expect that the enemies of Afghanistan, the terrorists, will fight back as Afghan and international forces take away the sanctuaries and safe havens that they have been able to establish over the recent years. And as we work with our regional partners to encourage them to do more to take away safe havens and sanctuaries outside of Afghanistan as well.
I can tell you that I feel very privileged to command NATO’s International Security Assistance Force and U.S. Forces in Afghanistan at this critical time as we soldier together, [shona fa shona] in pursuit of critical objectives for all of our countries.
Let me bring to a close my opening remarks by noting that the past two months in Afghanistan have reconfirmed for me the great admiration that I hold for the Afghan people who have seen so much war but who continue to strive and work for peace, who are very industrious, who are innovative, and above all are exceedingly hardworking.
It’s an honor to be a part of this time in Afghan history, and again, [ramazan mubarak and tashakur].
Question: My question is for General Petraeus. You said that the number of security forces has increased, has tripled, and the number of American civilians has increased, but we see that security is getting worse. It is expanding. It has [inaudible] northern parts of Afghanistan. So on the one hand we are seeing the increasing number of troops. We are also seeing the expansion of insecurity. So what is your analysis? Why is it not working?
General Petraeus: Actually, it is working. What happens in a situation like this is that the going gets tougher before it gets easier. The reason is because as we have expanded, as we have tripled the number of U.S. forces, as we have expanded other troop contributing nations forces as Afghanistan’s forces have grown, this has enabled us to go after areas that have been sanctuaries and safe havens for the Taliban and the Hakani network and others for a number of years. We have had to fight hard to take them back. They mean a great deal to the enemy and the enemy has indeed fought back quite hard as well.
In fact if you take Marjah just as an example, that was a command and control center, a safe haven, an explosive production location, and an illegal narcotics industry base all in one that meant a great deal to the enemies of Afghanistan. Taking that away was a tough fight, and indeed the enemy predictably fights back. I walked through the market of Marjah a couple of months ago -- something that could not have been done say seven months ago. It was vibrant and very busy. I visited the district center that was being refurbished. I visited a school that was reopened that was closed by the Taliban. And indeed this past week, as I noted earlier, there was voter registration in Marjah. All of that clearly is progress. It has been hard-won progress, but it is indeed progress, and we obviously need to build on that and expand that security bubble in and around the six central districts in Marjah and then in other areas of the country as well, needless to say.
In fact if I could just add one additional point. During the time that again, U.S. forces have expanded so dramatically, Afghan forces and other international forces have increased so substantially, and therefore our operations have increased very substantially as well, we have shown our commitment to reducing civilian casualties to an absolute minimum, and in fact the United Nations a couple of weeks ago noted, as I’m sure you saw, that during this period when we expanded so dramatically, the number of civilian casualties attributed to ISAF and Afghan forces operations was reduced by some 30 percent and the number of civilian casualties caused by the Taliban has gone up and in percentage is now something over 70 percent of all civilian casualties sustained by the people of Afghanistan.
So my commitment to reducing civilian casualties to an absolute minimum is absolutely firm, and I would note that the original tactical directive that General McKiernan put out, then the tactical directive, refined tactical directive put out by General McChrystal, was written in fact at a time when I was their boss as the Commander of Central Command, and I have subsequently reissued that tactical directive myself.
Question: My question is again for the General. You have mentioned that the Afghan military force is soon to take lead or it has taken lead in some, at least in one-sixth of the country. But official [inaudible] of the Minister of Defense and independent military experts say that until the Afghan Air Force is complete, in this mountainous country, we cannot complete the operation. What is your take on this, when this will be complete?
The second part of my question, sir, the insecurity in Afghanistan has a foreign dimension. If a stream poured down the mountain and you could clear the water in the outskirts of the mountain and the spring continues, [inaudible] Marjah and Helmand but hundreds of terrorists continue to come to Marjah from outside the country. So do you think this will be kind of a waste of energy, waste of resources?
The third part of my question is throughout the history, our foundation of defense was the tribal system. It was only during the fight against the former Soviet Union that our enemies tried to shift this foundation from tribal unity to a kind of extremism. That’s why today we see our tribal leaders attack and our tribal system has completely left them powerless and defenseless. So what is the take of the international community? Do you pay any attention towards these things?
General Petraeus: First of all on the Afghan Air Force there is actually a continued and significant expansion of your helicopter fleet and now of the fixed wing fleet as well. In fact another several transport aircraft just arrived. Indeed, you should be very proud of what your helicopters are doing right now in Pakistan. You have four MI-17s that are helping with the relief effort there completely independently and in a very impressive fashion. Again, all Afghans should take great pride in that.
In fact, Afghanistan now has a substantial MI-17 fleet that is growing further. You also have attack helicopters. Again, that is growing further. And you now have fixed wing aircraft as well, and there are plans to continue to expand that in the years that lie ahead. Noting that this is one of the more challenging endeavors in helping develop Afghan forces because, as you know, you just can’t put, you don’t put an individual through 14 weeks of basic training and have them become a pilot. It’s a very complicated and challenging endeavor, but it is ongoing. If you want to give my press officer your email address we can give you the specific numbers of each different type of aircraft that you now have and what the plans are.
Your next question about insecurity in Afghanistan having a foreign dimension is absolutely accurate. There is no question that there are sanctuaries enjoyed in neighboring countries by the Taliban, the Hakani Network, Commander Nazir, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Tariqi Taliban Pakistani and a number of other of the so-called syndicate of extremists that are causing security problems for Afghanistan.
It’s also well known that the Taliban leadership does not share risk and hardship with its fighters. As we would say, they lead from the rear, they leady by cell phone or by HF radio. They sit outside Afghanistan and they call their fighters and tell them to go out and fight hard while they sit in comfort in locations outside this country.
We do need to be fair and recognize that Pakistan in particular has, for the last 18 months, engaged in very tough, hard counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency operations. They have cleared and held in Swat Valley, which of course now more recently has been devastated by these floods, but they conducted impressive counter-insurgency operations against Tariqi Taliban Pakistani and the TNMS, the Massoud organization and others, and also have done the same in Bajour, to a degree Moman, Orekzai in South Waziristan and other agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.
Their forces and their civilians have sustained significant casualties in the course of this fight against groups that want to turn the clock back several centuries in Pakistan, instead of allowing it to go forward as the bulk of the population wants to see happen.
Is there more that should be and can be done? Absolutely. And indeed, there is an effort to assist with that as this moves forward, recognizing, again, what you described about the importance of getting at the source of the spring, not just at the end of it.
President Karzai and I and our Pakistani partners have all had conversations on this topic.
President Karzai and I have also discussed the challenges experienced by the tribal leaders in recent years as well. We share the concern very much. Indeed tonight I am meeting with the Minister of Tribal and Border Affairs. I know that President Karzai has issued various orders and so forth to some of his ministers on this subject, but I would leave that to the government to describe.
I think, frankly, that President Karzai’s decision to authorize the establishment of the so-called Afghan local police, the Polici Mahali, was a very good one, a strong decision, and one that will help in certain respects to address this problem, ensuring that these elements are under the control of the Ministry of Interior forces at district and provincial level, that they are not militia or arbikai, and that there are very clear safeguards linked to the vetting by the local elders and shura councils, and again, the chain of command that runs through the Ministry of Interior so that they are not conducting independent operations.
Ambassador Eikenberry: Thanks, Mr. Shapiki.
Let me say that our Department of Defense, our Department of State, our United States government, our Central Intelligence Agency, we have a long and a very positive relationship with the Afghan people and with the government of Afghanistan. Our government, our military and our intelligence agencies are combined as your allies in a fight against international terrorism. But it’s been a longstanding policy of the United States government and our Department of State, Mr. Shapiki, we simply do not comment on matters of intelligence. That’s a global policy and it’s a longstanding policy.
With apologies, I have a meeting with President Karzai and I’ll have to leave at this point. I wish you all Ramadan Mubarak.
General Petraeus: Did somebody ask me a question about July 2011? [Laughter].
General Petraeus: First of all, I think it’s very important to understand the context in which the date July 2011 was announced. It was, of course, a speech by President Obama, one in which he sought to send two messages. One was a message of enormous additional commitment, again, the final 30,000 of this tripling of our force, the funding for 100,000 additional Afghan National Security Forces, augmentation of other international elements, and the tripling of our civilian contribution.
Along with the message of the enormous additional commitment was a message of urgency, of the need to move rapidly. That’s what July 2011 means. It is nothing more and nothing less than the date when a process begins. Based on conditions, conditions including the ability of Afghan forces and Afghan officials to take on additional tasks as they already are in some parts of the country.
As I mentioned, Kabul, one-sixth of the country, the Afghan forces are already in the lead. Other cities, certainly Herat, Mazar, Jalalabad and other populated centers. It’s the Afghan security forces who are seen on the street, not international forces.
Again, the pace of this transition will be determined by conditions on the ground. President Obama charged me with providing my best professional military advice to him about all of this, and that is what I will do.
As I have mentioned many times, in fact, July 2011 is not the date at which U.S. forces race for the exits and look for the light switch to turn out before we leave the room. You’ve just heard an unprecedented, from the United States President Obama made an unprecedented commitment when he announced that there would be the beginning of a process of transition and I think it’s very important to focus on that sustained substantial commitment that he has made in appreciating the context in which the date 2011 was offered.
With respect to the second question, I think there is a shared vision, actually, of the security threats to this country, of terrorism. And there is a recognition that together we must fight the manifestations of terrorism, those who are trying to blow up activities here in Kabul or anywhere else throughout the country, those who are causing such terrible loss of life, of civilians in particular in Afghanistan, and carrying out practices that are absolutely abhorrent I think to virtually all Afghans as well. That we must combat together as well.
The conditions that might lead to local support for those who are intent on carrying out extremist actions for promoting extremist visions, and that indeed there has to be an effort, in this case a regional effort of partners to address the sources, the sanctuaries of terrorism and extremism as well.
I’m afraid I have time just for one more, if I could.
Question: Thank you, General. My question is, is the U.S. going with more [inaudible] especially on [inaudible] with the Taliban? And also do --
General Petraeus: Put more pressure on who?
Question: On Pakistan guard, to fight against Taliban, especially the ISI [inaudible].
Also, could you describe your relation with President Karzai, especially in terms of the fighting against corruption in the wake of the Afghan government having corruption [inaudible]?
General Petraeus: As I mentioned earlier, there is a very clear recognition that the terrorists, the extremists who are seeking to destabilize Afghanistan and to promote their extremist vision for Afghanistan have sanctuaries and safe havens outside Afghanistan. And there have indeed been conversations with our Pakistani partners on this subject, and President Karzai has had them as well, I can tell you.
There is indeed greater coordination between ISAF, Afghan and Pakistani forces on operations conducted in the border areas, particularly in the areas of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, and on this side of the [Duram Line] and on the Pakistani side. So that as one side pursues extremists and pushes them in one direction, the other side is waiting and doesn’t just enable a new sanctuary on the other side.
Again, having said that, and having recognized as I did earlier, and I’d like you to include this because Pakistan has indeed carried out very considerable operations with substantial numbers of forces, hundreds of thousands of forces against, again, the extremists in what’s now called Khyber Poptukhua and in various agencies of the FATA.
That notwithstanding, there is mutual recognition that there are further sanctuaries and again, North Waziristan is prominent among them, where for example, there are locations of the Hakani Network, Tariqi Taliban Pakistani, the Punjabi Taliban now that is of such concern to our Pakistani partners, residual al-Qaida elements, Commander Nazir and others. And without question, over time the pressure does need to be increased in those areas. But I’m not going to go into, needless to say, what that pressure, what form that pressure might take, for obvious reasons.
You asked about my relationship with President Karzai, and I typically assess that it is a very good one. And my definition of very good is that we can have open and forthright conversations with each other, that we can on occasion recognize that we approach a particular subject from a different perspective, and that on occasion we can even have a different view on something, but at the end of the day we realize that this is a critically important partnership so that we can achieve mutual objectives that are of overriding concern to all of our countries.
I’ve heard President Karzai issue commitments, state commitments to combat the corruption that causes problems in achieving legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan people for governance, which is a critically important component of the overall effort to combat the terrorists. I heard his remarks in London, in Washington, at the Kabul Conference, in a conversation with President Obama recently, and most recently with Senator Kerry.
As with people who ask when will the Afghan Security Forces take on security responsibilities, there are also questions, when will the Afghan government take action against corruption. And I think it is only fair to recall that in the past year or so there have been hundreds of judicial officials removed from their positions by the Chief Justice for Corruption, some of them including judges and some of them being imprisoned for that.
Dozens of senior officials and citizens have also been charged for corruption, in counter-narcotics cases as well, and in one recent case the Border Police Commander for Western Afghanistan was tried and sentenced to jail for a number of years, indeed, for corruption charges.
There are, of course, also pending cases and then ongoing investigations and we all will watch obviously in the weeks and months ahead to see how they are resolved, and to see the commitment that President Karzai has announced for some of the key elements of the Ministry of Interior and other ministries created to help the government combat corruption.
President Karzai has rightly noted that indeed the United States, the U.S. military, international organizations are part of the problem. And we recognize that and within U.S. Forces Afghanistan we have established elements that will help us determine who are not just the contractors who are getting large contracts, but who are their subcontractors and their sub-subcontractors. They will help us be very transparent about who it is that are receiving contracts and whether they are indeed related to government officials or perhaps violating one of the policies that President Karzai has established governing these kinds of cases.
Again, we recognize as does President Karzai and the Afghan government, the importance of the people seeing their government as legitimate in their eyes, and we must therefore help the Afghan government with all of its efforts that strive to increase the legitimacy of governance in the eyes of the Afghan citizens.
With that, I’m afraid I’ll have to say tashakur again. Thanks to all of you for gathering today. Thanks to the GMIC. And thanks to what you are doing for your country. An informed population is the foundation for a civil society that has an exchange of ideas, the kind of exchange of ideas that is important to progress and to education and to innovativeness and to economic growth and development, and you play, obviously, a central role in all of that. Tashakur.
Thank you very much.
# # # #