U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
|Presenter: Secretary of Defense Robert Gates||February 12, 2007 12:00 PM EST|
(Note: This event was fed in progress from source.)
SEC. GATES: (In progress) -- the war on terror. They have clearly -- Pakistan is clearly a very strong ally of the United States in this. We discussed the situation on the border with Afghanistan.
I thanked him for Pakistan's efforts to enforce the North Waziristan Agreement and at the same time expressed condolences to him and to the families of those in the Pakistani security forces who were killed on January 22nd. I want to also commend the courage and the successes of the Pakistani security forces for their efforts.
We discussed the coming spring military activity on the border and the measures that the Afghans, the NATO alliance, the United States and Pakistan working together can take both separately and together. I described to him the augmentation of U.S. forces on the Afghan side of the border that I directed a few weeks ago and also talked to him about the comments that I had made and others had made at the NATO Defense Ministers Meeting in Madrid -- in Seville, rather -- about increasing their commitment both in terms of military forces, but also economic development and reconstruction resources for Afghanistan.
We talked about the importance of seizing the offensive this spring to deal the Taliban and al Qaeda a strategic setback. I congratulated him on his efforts to strengthen modern Islam and encouraged him to continue those efforts and that the United States thought this was a significant contribution.
I would just make one final comment. My first visits to Pakistan were over 20 years ago and were in connection with our mutual effort to help the Afghans drive the Soviet troops from their territory.
After the Soviets left, the United States made a mistake. We neglected Afghanistan, and extremism took control of that country. And the United States paid a price for that on September 11th, 2001. We won't make that mistake again. We are here for the long haul.
Be happy to take some questions. Yeah.
Q Mr. Secretary, did you talk and come to any understanding with the president here about U.S. military action in Pakistan? I'm talking about the artillery that's being lobbed across the border, and some of the hot pursuit that U.S. military personnel are doing there.
SEC. GATES: I'll just say that our operations are coordinated with the Pakistanis.
Q But the president -- are these things coordinated to the effect that President Musharraf has approved of them?
SEC. GATES: I don't know that he approves of them. They're coordinated, though. I don't know that he personally approves them. I doubt that, frankly, but they are coordinated in the border area.
Q Yes, Mr. Secretary. This is Salah Zafara. I'm from the Jang -- (inaudible) -- newspaper. Welcome to Pakistan.
SEC. GATES: Thank you.
Q Mr. Secretary, you have just said that United States made a mistake by leaving Afghanistan after -- (inaudible) -- the troops from that country. But we in Pakistan feel that United States is again on the way to make another mistake by leaving Pakistan in wilderness, high and dry, because there are certain voices we are hearing from Washington, negative voices toward Pakistan, despite that fact that you have eulogized Pakistan's role -- General Abizaid and President Bush, they are. But some commanders sitting in Afghanistan, Kabul and Kandahar, they have been talking negative and even provocative statements. What do you comment on this situation, this development?
SEC. GATES: Well, I don't think negative comments are very productive. It's always easier to stand at a distance when you're not in the battle yourself. My sense is that Pakistan is playing a very constructive role. It's incurring a significant cost in lives -- and, I might add, in treasure -- in fighting this battle on the border.
There are always ways that all of us can improve. That includes NATO and the U.S., the Afghans. And one of the subjects of our conversation this morning was how we can all improve.
So I think that -- one of my favorite sayings is, no one ever put up a statue to a critic.
Q Mr. Secretary, while we're on that question from my Pakistani colleagues, there's also an interesting sort of criticism going back and forth from Kabul and Islamabad. Two of America's most important allies seem to disagree over the role each other is playing. Did you and the president talk about that? And what can be done to calm this war of words and improve relations between these two allies, Afghanistan and Pakistan?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that -- I think and hope that the United States can play a constructive role in improving understanding and coordination between the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan. They have -- we all have a mutual interest in stabilizing the border, and in Afghanistan becoming a stable and prosperous democracy. And I think we can all move in that direction, and I think the United States has the opportunity to play a constructive role.
Q Mr. Secretary --
SEC. GATES: Yeah?
Q This is (name off mike) for the Voice of America. You see, the legislation in the Congress that has been approved by the House of Representatives has worried some Pakistani experts here and the government itself, which is linking the military aid to Pakistan with the tackling of the Taliban. Do you think that will help in countering terrorism if that legislation is approved by the Senate as well?
SEC. GATES: To be honest, I'm not familiar with the details of the legislation and that linkage. I'll have to go back and find out about it.
The Congress obviously is very concerned about what happens when American troops are deployed and what they perceive to be the problems that may leave them more exposed. I think that I need to go back and see what the legislation actually says, but I think that there is very great concern on the part of the Congress about what is happening along the border. These are the kinds of issues -- if we weren't concerned about what was happening along the border, I wouldn't be here. So I don't think it's unusual that the Congress would be preoccupied with it as well.
Q Mr. Secretary, what sort of assurances did you get from President Musharraf in terms of enforcing the agreement in North Waziristan? And isn't it the case that that agreement has basically contributed to the problems on the border?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that the president himself has acknowledged that there were problems initially with the enforcement of the agreement, but that it is improving. I think what we really focused on was not on getting assurances or making demands, but rather on how can we work together better to be more effective in the efforts on the border to stop the Taliban and to stop al Qaeda. So the focus of the conversation was on how do we work together better, how do we each improve, and there's room for that on both sides.
Q There have been violations of Pakistani air space by NATO groups. What action so far the U.S. has taken in this regard, and is there any assurance from the U.S. to stop such type of violations?
SEC. GATES: As I say, as far as I know, U.S. military operations are coordinated in that area.
Q Mr. Secretary, you've been talking for several days about the offensive that you want -- may launch in the spring. Did you get any -- not assurances, but did President Musharraf say in what way he can contribute to this offensive? And did he ask for any additional aid in either money or other equipment or anything from the United States?
SEC. GATES: No, he actually didn't. We talked about money that has already been set aside for economic development in the Fatah, but the focus really was on how we can be better prepared for this spring.
STAFF: One more question.
Q Well, can you just go into a little bit of detail -- a little more detail, perhaps, about what he thinks he can bring to the table for this offensive?
SEC. GATES: Well, I think that he's been meeting with his commanders and seeing how they can improve the effectiveness of their operations in the area; pretty much like I was in Afghanistan talking about the same thing with our people. And so I think there's a mutual interest in improving our effectiveness, improving our coordination, and the understanding that we have a real opportunity this spring.
Q Mr. Secretary, you have successfully experimented fencing your borders with Mexico. But when Pakistan offered that it is prepared to -- she is prepared to fence its border with Afghanistan, it has been opposed by the administration in Kabul. I'll need your comment.
And secondly, Pakistan has been asking for a shifting of the refugees from inside of Pakistan because the refugee camps have become the breeding place for the extremists and terrorists. Will the United States of America prepare to help Pakistan in shifting these camps back to Afghanistan, or the people who are staying there?
SEC. GATES: Well, with respect to the first part of your question, I'm not a spokesman for the government of Afghanistan, so I'll let them answer that question.
Second, the truth is that Pakistan for many years has been a home for millions of Afghan refugees that came here during the war against the Soviets, and my understanding is that millions of those refugees actually have already returned home. There are still enough that it is a huge humanitarian challenge, both for Pakistan and for the rest of the world. And the problem is sending them home, unless there's some kind of economic development program that provides jobs for them and a place for them to go -- I guess the point is that any significant forced return of the refugees would have to be based on a lot of preparation, a lot of planning and a commitment of significant resources by the international community in helping them resettle and find jobs.
Thank you all very much.
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