Military

U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
News Transcript

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Afghan President Hamid Karzai December 13, 2012

Joint Press Conference by Secretary Panetta and President Karzai in Kabul, Afghanistan


AFGHAN PRESIDENT HAMID KARZAI: I will speak in our language and there will be some interpretation.

(THROUGH TRANSLATOR): In the name of God, the most merciful and most compassionate.

The media members, both Afghan and international, American press, you're most welcome to our press conference availability today. It's a great honor and pleasure to welcome Mr. Leon Panetta -- to welcome him again, actually, to Afghanistan and to our country.

As you know already, he is a great friend of Afghanistan and an ally to Afghanistan, and with whom we enjoy and the government of Afghanistan enjoys a good working relationship, including myself.

Our discussions today included issues and talks on bilateral -- issues of bilateral importance, including the strategic partnership agreement as well as the ongoing security agreement; issues of prisons and prisoners and the transfer of prisoners; and raised to better equip and train Afghan army -- provision of equipment to Afghan army, stronger Afghan army; and then overall relations between the two countries.

We had positive and productive discussions. We both had a one-to-one talk and as well as broader talks in -- in a spirit of --in a cordial and friendly spirit.

And I thank him for his visit of Afghanistan and for the assurances on behalf of the U.S. government to Afghanistan.

And I once again welcome you, Mr. Secretary, to Afghanistan. Wish you all the best.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON E. PANETTA: Thank you very much, Mr. President.

Let me begin by expressing my gratitude to President Karzai for once again hosting me here tonight. I always deeply appreciate the opportunity to meet with him face-to-face, to have the opportunity to be able to share a friendship that has developed over the last number of years, and to work with him in the effort to build a strong and stable and secure and sovereign Afghanistan.

This is my eighth visit to Afghanistan in the last four years, and I must say that I personally have witnessed the fact that Afghanistan is moving in the right direction, toward achieving that sovereignty and independence that it has always desired.

Through the course of these visits and many other consultations, President Karzai and I have built a friendship and a sustained dialogue that allows us to discuss the challenges and the opportunities that lie ahead.

The United States has an enduring respect for his commitment to lead this proud and sovereign nation out of decades of war, now almost approaching 11 years of war, and before that --

PRES. KARZAI: Before that.

SEC. PANETTA: -- many more years of war, and toward a peaceful and prosperous future for the Afghan people.

That's what the Afghan people want and that's what the Afghan people deserve.

Tonight, I want to strongly reaffirm that the United States supports the aspirations of the people of Afghanistan to fully secure and govern themselves. Indeed, that shared goal is what we are all working for and fighting together to achieve, alongside forces from 49 other nations.

Over the last four years, we have experienced the ups and downs of war and the challenges that are associated with that effort. And yet we have also seen people working together on the ground -- Afghans, Americans or ISAF nations -- overcoming those challenges. Their sacrifices, their dedication, their commitment I believe have turned the tide of war.

We now have the opportunity to make these gains lasting. We must be bold enough to seize the opportunity by pressing ahead together with our campaign plan.

As you know, the focus of our military effort is to build the capabilities of the Afghan national security forces so that they can assume the full responsibility for security in this country. It is a strategy that continues to have the full support of the United States and of the international community.

The ANSF are out in the frontlines as we speak fighting and dying every day to protect their fellow citizens. In Kandahar, where I visited today, Afghan soldiers and police officers are patrolling and securing the streets that just a few years ago were targeted by terrorism. Afghans now represent more than two-thirds of those serving in uniform in this country. They are leading more of our security efforts. They are taking the brunt of total casualties.

When I became secretary of defense last year, transition was just beginning. There were many questions about whether the Afghan forces were ready to step up. But they have taken the lead for providing security in more than 75 percent of the Afghan population. And the security gains in areas that are transitioning have been sustained -- sustained -- with violence continuing to drop.

Afghan security forces are proving that they can do the job. Last night, I had the opportunity to meet with all of our commanders -- U.S. commanders throughout Afghanistan. To a person -- to a person, they said that the Afghan forces are proving they can do the job.

Still, as our strategy makes clear, the ANSF will need continued support as they move to assume the lead for full security throughout the country by mid-2013, and take full responsibility for security nationwide by the end of 2014. We will focus new energy on leadership development. We will build their planning, logistical, and procurement capabilities. And we will undertake with them training so that they can provide larger and more complex operations in the battlefield.

This progress on security makes it all the more important to confront broader strategic challenges that remain, and we are doing that. We are both working more closely to try to get Pakistan to confront the challenge of terrorism and insurgency in the safe havens across the border. We must strengthen the rule of law. We must work together to reduce corruption. We must promote the quality of governance that will support these hard-won -- won security gains.

Together with the international community, we must promote sustainable economic development, education, health care, to give the Afghan people the better future that they deserve.

These are long-term challenges -- these are long-term challenges. This is a war that we are engaged in. But let me assure you that the commitment of the United States and the international community to Afghanistan is not just in the short term, but in the long term. Just as the strategic partnership agreement signed by President Obama and President Karzai made clear, America will not turn away from Afghanistan. We will continue to have an enduring presence beyond 2014 into the future.

We have learned the lessons of history. We have learned the lessons of history. Our two governments are now working together on a bilateral security agreement that will establish the terms for our long-term security presence, to include a joint agreement on that enduring presence that I discussed.

Tonight, I am pleased to inform you that the United States, through our ambassador, has issued a formal invitation to President Karzai from President Obama to meet in Washington during the week of January 7th to discuss a shared vision of Afghanistan beyond 2014, and President Karzai has expressed his willingness to accept that invitation, and we look forward to his coming to Washington.

Over more than a decade of war, America has lost more than 2,000 of our sons and daughters in uniform, and thousands more carry the wounds of war. Our coalition partners have fought and bled in this mission, and the Afghan people have fought and bled and sacrificed and suffered in untold ways.

Those sacrifices must not be in vain. Those sacrifices were made to help the Afghan people build a secure and sovereign nation, free from the domination of violent extremism, the kind of extremism that would attack the United States and that would attack our allies.

I know that for the Afghan people, there is a profound longing for peace and stability. We share that vision. For the first time since 9/11, we have a chance to achieve the mission that we are embarked upon. To achieve that mission will require continued commitment, continued perseverance, continued partnership and continued sacrifice on the part of all nations.

We have built the bonds of friendship and respect between our peoples. Those bonds have been forged in the blood of war. As we enter this new year, our prayer is that that bond will carry us toward a brighter and more peaceful future for the people of Afghanistan. The dream of a better life for our children is a dream that we all share and we believe can be achieved here in your country.

Thank you.

PRES. KARZAI: Welcome, sir. You're most welcome.

Secretary Panetta, would you like to choose the first --

SEC. PANETTA: Choose the first --

PRES. KARZAI: -- questioner?

SEC. PANETTA: Phil Stewart

Q: Mr. Secretary, first, could you just explain, will there be, then, an announcement on the number of -- on the size of the U.S. mission in Afghanistan on the date of President Karzai's visit? And could you please give us your reaction and any details you might have about the attack on Kandahar airfield?

And to President Karzai, we've heard a lot of speculation in the United States about what size mission might be appropriate. What -- what -- what size do you think should remain in Afghanistan -- thousands of troops, tens of thousands of troops, no troops? We'd like to hear your thoughts.

SEC. PANETTA: First of all, with regards to the vehicle IED attack at Kandahar, my understanding is that that was the type of attack we've seen throughout the country. A car went up against an MRAP and as a result of that there were lives that were lost. And we regret those lives being lost.

But the whole point is that this is the kind of attack they resort to when, in fact, the Afghan army, the Afghan police are working to secure the large populated areas. This is what they resort to in order to try to continue to try to stimulate chaos in this country. They will not be successful at doing that.

With regards to the -- the number on the enduring presence, that will be an issue that will be discussed by the president with President Karzai, in consultation with him. And then ultimately I assume when they feel it is appropriate that will be revealed to not only the American people, but the Afghan people as well.

PRES. KARZAI: All right.

As Secretary Panetta explained, we will be discussing this issue and all other relevant issues in Washington, and then the proper announcements will be made.

Q: (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Mr. President, I first welcome Mr. Secretary to Afghanistan.

And my question is to both of you gentlemen. The first question is to Secretary Panetta, who is a guest here so we give him the priority.

My first question to you is that the United States with other coalition has not been able to achieve the shared goal of removing the safe havens across the border -- and across the borders of Afghanistan. They have not been able to address this vital issue. And Pakistan has continued to play that double-faced game with both Afghanistan and the United States as well as the international community.

Now that we are approaching to 2014 and now that you are drawing down and departing from Afghanistan, how would be able to address this important and pivotal question that continues to pose a threat to the international community? How will you be able to remain his unresolved?

And you have always emphasized on fighting corruption and on issues of weak governance and all that. But the issue of safe havens that continues to be an important part of the strategy of this war, there has not been enough media campaign against the presence of those safe havens. How would you clarify this issue, Mr. Secretary? After you guys depart from Afghanistan and after the international community departs, how will that affect Pakistan in regard to -- to the situation?

And my question to President Karzai is, in your trip that you just returned from, Turkey, you had discussions with President Zardari of Pakistan. Of course, you also spoke about the attack on Afghanistan's chief of intelligence. What specifically have you asked for and what specific cooperation have they pledged?

SEC. PANETTA: Well, first and foremost, we're not departing Afghanistan. We are going to maintain an enduring presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014. We'll be drawing down our forces. Obviously, the Afghan army will assume full responsibility for the security of the country. But we will be there to provide support, to provide training, to provide assistance, to provide help on counterterrorism, and to provide support for the forces that are here. So we will be maintaining an enduring presence here.

We have made clear that one of the threats to peace in Afghanistan is the threat that comes from the safe havens across the border in Pakistan. We have continued to make clear to the Pakistanis that they have a responsibility to deal with terrorism on their side of the border.

Many times they have spoken about their concern but have not followed through. And our approach to that is to continue to bring pressure on Pakistan to take steps.

I have to say that of late, you know, my sense is that Afghanistan, General Kayani, the leadership in Afghanistan -- or in Pakistan, excuse me, have indicated a greater willingness to be able to take on that issue and to try to deal with terrorism that affects not just Afghanistan, but affects their country as well.

I think it is very important for the international community, for Afghanistan, for the United States to continue to put pressure on Pakistan to ensure that it does everything possible to eliminate those safe havens for terrorism on that side of the border.

That is an essential part of achieving the kind of peace, the kind of security that we think Afghanistan deserves.

PRES. KARZAI (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): Yes, I spoke to His Excellency, President Zardari in our trilateral summits -- which I give this opportunity to express my gratitude for the hospitality and for the reception Turkey provided.

Yes, we did have frank discussions and one of the issues was, of course, the attack on our chief of intelligence. And the deputy Afghanistan chief of intelligence was with us, and -- who had a file of information of documents that we provided to Pakistan and to Turkey. Yes.

SEC. PANETTA: I have Gordon Lubold.

Gordon?

Q: Thank you.

Mr. President, first question is to you about the agreement on immunity. And I wondered if you could tell us -- this is central to the long-term agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan. Can you tell us if you're any more comfortable with the talks and what assurances you are looking for now for a long-term agreement?

And then for Mr. Secretary, quick question, if you could tell us if there are American military casualties from the attack tonight.

But at the bigger question is, we've been here with you for the last couple days; heard a lot of positive assessments from various ISAF commanders. I wonder if you could give us a sense -- the conventional wisdom is that General Allen's recommendations will be to keep as robust a fighting force in Afghanistan through next year. Do these positive assessments in any way make it more difficult to justify a large force through next year?

PRES. KARZAI: I will go first.

Well, we know in Afghanistan that the question of immunity for U.S. troops is of immense importance for the United States. And if we are to sign a strategic security agreement with the United States, that's the cornerstone for the United States of this agreement.

We in Afghanistan have (inaudible) important issues of our own as well, in the context of the security agreement with America and in the follow-up of the strategic partnership agreement we signed with President Obama.

The question of detention centers, the question of taking detainees in Afghanistan, the questions of -- the questions that -- that directly touch Afghan sovereignty and Afghan laws and the training and better equipping of Afghan forces, those are also for us vital and important issues.

And I have already today discussed in some good (inaudible) these issues with Secretary Panetta, as we have had earlier discussions with your representatives here in -- in Afghanistan.

Having given us the tools through which we protect our country, a sovereign country in Afghanistan, and having given us the assurances that the United States will support Afghanistan, equip Afghanistan, give us a good army, a good air force, and a good ability to protect Afghan interests in the region for the protection of the Afghan people, I can go to the Afghan people and speak on the subject of immunity for U.S. troops with ease and with reason. But before I do that, I need to be given those assurances by the United States.

SEC. PANETTA: On -- on that issue, if I might state, we had very good discussions about elements with regards to the strategic agreement. And I -- I feel very confident that we will ultimately be able to achieve an agreement that will provide what we need in order to maintain an enduring presence.

I think the president -- President Karzai is committed to that enduring presence. We are committed to respecting the sovereignty of Afghanistan. And we believe that we can achieve the kind of agreement that would be acceptable to both countries.

On the casualties, let me just -- (inaudible), I believe two?

SEC. PANETTA: One killed and three wounded --

SEC. PANETTA: -- and several Afghans were wounded as well in that -- (inaudible).

SEC. PANETTA: One U.S. casualty, three wounded.

With regards to the issue of -- you know, of 2013, I think it's -- it's pretty clear that we have now transitioned. We've gone through three tranches that involve a transitioning to the security and governance of Afghanistan -- almost 75 percent of the population.

In 2013 we will complete the next two tranches. And that would represent then 100 percent of the population that would be under Afghan security and governance.

These are tough areas. We're not -- we're not kidding anybody that some of these are among the most difficult areas. And as a result, 2013 will be a critical year in which, you know, we will have to bring everything to bear, the Afghan army and whatever assistance we can provide to bear to ensure that we stay on the right path through this critical year.

With regards to the specific recommendations as to how much of a force we need, once there is a decision with regard to the enduring presence, then General Allen will make recommendations as to how we should proceed with regards to the drawdown through the end of 2014, and we will await those recommendations. And, indeed, the hope is that they will be discussed with the president when he comes in January.

Okay?

PRES. KARZAI: Thank you.

SEC. PANETTA: Thank you very much.

PRES. KARZAI: Thank you very much, gentlemen. Thank you.

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