Afghanistan/USA — Karzai Begins U.S. Meetings with Visit to Walter Reed

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2010 — In the midst of a series of diplo­mat­ic meet­ings here, Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai took time to vis­it with Amer­i­can ser­vice­mem­bers who were wound­ed help­ing his coun­try.

Karzai met with ser­vice­mem­bers at Wal­ter Reed Army Med­ical Cen­ter. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Army Gen. Stan­ley A. McChrys­tal, the U.S. and NATO com­man­der in Afghanistan, accom­pa­nied him.

At the State Depart­ment today, Karzai said he is proud of the progress Afghanistan has made, but not­ed that none of it would have been pos­si­ble “with­out the sac­ri­fices of your sons and daugh­ters in Afghanistan, togeth­er with the Afghan peo­ple; and with­out your tax­pay­ers’ mon­ey spent in Afghanistan, togeth­er with the Afghan peo­ple.”

“I thank you,” he said, “and on behalf of the Afghan peo­ple, please do con­vey the grat­i­tude of our peo­ple to the peo­ple of the Unit­ed States of Amer­i­ca.”

Karzai is here to strength­en the strate­gic part­ner­ship between the Unit­ed States and Afghanistan. Karzai and mem­bers of his gov­ern­ment will meet with U.S. offi­cials through May 14. Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton stressed that the Unit­ed States is in its part­ner­ship with Afghanistan for the long term.

“Our nations will work togeth­er and with the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty to build a sta­ble and pros­per­ous Afghanistan that is a force for peace, progress and pros­per­i­ty for its own peo­ple and its region, a bul­wark against al-Qai­da and oth­er vio­lent extrem­ists rather than a haven for them,” she said at the State Depart­ment this morn­ing. “And in so doing, we will advance and sus­tain the secu­ri­ty of both our nations.”

Clin­ton said the U.S. com­mit­ment to Afghanistan will last long after Amer­i­can com­bat forces leave the coun­try. “Let me be clear,” she said. “As we look toward a respon­si­ble, order­ly tran­si­tion in the inter­na­tion­al com­bat mis­sion in Afghanistan, we will not aban­don the Afghan peo­ple. Our civil­ian com­mit­ment will remain long into the future.”

The sec­re­tary of state acknowl­edged that a dif­fi­cult road lies ahead, but added that Afghanistan already has made enor­mous progress. Freed from the yoke of the Tal­iban, Afghanistan is an emerg­ing and vibrant civ­il soci­ety, she not­ed, with a bur­geon­ing free press. Afghanistan now has more than 150 FM radio sta­tions, 23 tele­vi­sion sta­tions and a grow­ing telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions indus­try. More than 10 mil­lion mobile phones are in use in Afghanistan today; sev­en years ago, the coun­try had only 80,000 cell phone users.

Afghanistan has put in place a health care sys­tem that now pro­vides access to basic ser­vices for two-thirds of the pop­u­la­tion. The edu­ca­tion sys­tem that “once had 900,000 stu­dents under the Tal­iban, all male, and now has 6 mil­lion, 2 mil­lion of whom are girls,” Clin­ton said.

But progress in Afghanistan remains frag­ile, the sec­re­tary said. The coun­try remains under con­stant threat from extrem­ists who use vio­lence to achieve polit­i­cal ends and pro­mote crim­i­nal enter­pris­es, includ­ing nar­cotics traf­fick­ing. The Afghan police are tar­gets of the insur­gents, and the Tal­iban con­tin­ue to send hit men to assas­si­nate gov­ern­ment offi­cials.

Clin­ton called on the Afghan gov­ern­ment to assume greater respon­si­bil­i­ty for secu­ri­ty start­ing next year. Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma has said that U.S. troops will begin to leave Afghanistan in July 2011, if con­di­tions allow.

As the Afghans take over more of the secu­ri­ty mis­sion, Clin­ton said, the Unit­ed States will con­tin­ue the devel­op­ment effort.

“When we added troops this year, we also tripled the num­ber of U.S. civil­ians on the ground,” she said. “These diplo­mats and devel­op­ment experts are part­ner­ing with our mil­i­tary and their Afghan coun­ter­parts, help­ing to strength­en insti­tu­tions and expand eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties in areas like agri­cul­ture.”

Clin­ton applaud­ed Karzai’s efforts to fight cor­rup­tion in the Afghan gov­ern­ment, and said the Unit­ed States is inter­est­ed in Karzai’s plan for a Tal­iban rein­te­gra­tion and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process. The Unit­ed States also wel­comes the upcom­ing Afghan peace jir­ga – a nation­al assem­bly – that will allow Afghans to express their views and sup­port, Clin­ton said.

Karzai asked the Unit­ed States to sup­port Afghanistan’s devel­op­ment strat­e­gy.

“It would give Afghanistan long-term insti­tu­tion­al, eco­nom­ic and secu­ri­ty sta­bil­i­ty so Afghanistan can, in a few years’ time, not be any more a bur­den on your shoul­ders,” he said, “so that Afghanistan can stand on its own feet, so Afghanistan can defend its coun­try, so Afghanistan can feed its peo­ple with its own income, so we can pay for our lives from our own pock­ets.”

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