Clinton, Panetta Discuss Cooperation in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, Aug. 16, 2011 — The secu­ri­ty mis­sion in Afghanistan is mak­ing progress, but much more needs to be done on gov­er­nance and devel­op­ment, two top Cab­i­net offi­cials said at Fort McNair here today.

Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton and Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta said in a dis­cus­sion at the Nation­al Defense Uni­ver­si­ty that the con­flict in Afghanistan can be suc­cess­ful if all aspects of gov­ern­ment work togeth­er. For­mer CNN cor­re­spon­dent Frank Ses­no, now at George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty, mod­er­at­ed the dis­cus­sion.

A total of 1,626 Amer­i­cans have died in Afghanistan in the past decade, Panet­ta said. The largest loss of U.S. ser­vice mem­bers’ lives in one inci­dent in Afghanistan occurred Aug. 6, as 38 U.S. and Afghan per­son­nel died when a CH-47 Chi­nook heli­copter went down in the east­ern part of the coun­try.

“There are a lot of our men and women that have put their lives on the line on the mis­sion that we’re involved with there,” the sec­re­tary said.

That mis­sion — to dis­rupt, dis­man­tle and defeat al-Qai­da — remains cru­cial to U.S. secu­ri­ty, and Afghanistan must nev­er again be a safe haven for ter­ror­ist groups to attack the Unit­ed States, Panet­ta said.

“I think we’ve made good progress on that,” he said. “We are mak­ing very good progress in terms of secu­ri­ty, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the south and south­west. Those are dif­fi­cult areas. We’ve now got to try to improve the sit­u­a­tion in the east.”

Over­all, the sit­u­a­tion is doing much bet­ter, and coali­tion forces have begun tran­si­tion­ing areas to the Afghan gov­ern­ment, Panet­ta said.

“We’ve got to make sure that the Afghan gov­ern­ment is pre­pared to not only gov­ern, but to help secure that coun­try in the long run,” he added.

Clin­ton said Pres­i­dent Oba­ma made the deci­sion to go after the Tal­iban soon after tak­ing office in 2009 because he believed the Tal­iban had momen­tum on their side. The pres­i­dent ordered addi­tion­al troops into Afghanistan and called for an increase in civil­ian experts to serve there.

“I ordered and ful­filled the more than tripling of the civil­ians on the ground, from 320 to more than 1,125,” Clin­ton said. “We put in a lot of effort to try to sta­bi­lize, and then reverse, what we saw as a dete­ri­o­rat­ing sit­u­a­tion. I think we both believe that we are now at a place where we can begin the tran­si­tion and do so in a respon­si­ble way.”

Any change in Afghanistan will require some form of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, Clin­ton said.

“We know that there has to be a polit­i­cal res­o­lu­tion along­side the mil­i­tary gains and sac­ri­fice that we have put in, along­side the sac­ri­fice and suf­fer­ing of the Afghan peo­ple,” she said. “But we want this to be, as we say often, Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.”

Clin­ton said the Afghan peo­ple are learn­ing about democ­ra­cy and the respon­si­bil­i­ties inher­ent in a democ­ra­cy. She point­ed to Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai’s deci­sion to not seek a third term as a “very strong sig­nal that there has to be an active, dynam­ic polit­i­cal process to choose his suc­ces­sor.”

Pak­istan is of para­mount impor­tance to sta­bil­i­ty in the region, the sec­re­tary of state not­ed.

“We think it is in the long-term inter­est of Pak­istan for us to work through what are very dif­fi­cult prob­lems in that rela­tion­ship,” Clin­ton said. “This is not any­thing new. We’ve had a chal­leng­ing rela­tion­ship with Pak­istan going back decades.”

The Pak­ista­nis are part­ners with the Unit­ed States, but like most nations, they don’t agree with every­thing the Unit­ed States does, Clin­ton said.

“They don’t always see the world the way we see the world, and they don’t always coop­er­ate with us on what we think — and I’ll be very blunt about this — is in their inter­ests,” she said. “It’s not like we are com­ing to Pak­istan and encour­ag­ing them to do things that will be bad for Pak­istan. But they often don’t fol­low what our log­ic is as we make those cas­es to them, so it takes a lot of dia­logue.”

The Unit­ed States has no choice but to main­tain a rela­tion­ship with Pak­istan, because “we’re fight­ing a war there,” Panet­ta said.

“Because we are fight­ing al-Qai­da there, and they do give us … some coop­er­a­tion in that effort,” he added.

Pak­istan is an impor­tant force in that region of the world, Panet­ta said, in part, because “they do hap­pen to be a nuclear pow­er that has nuclear weapons, and we have to be con­cerned about what hap­pens with those nuclear weapons.”

Those are just some of the rea­sons to main­tain the rela­tion­ship with Pak­istan, Panet­ta said.

“It is com­pli­cat­ed,” the sec­re­tary acknowl­edged. “It’s going to be ups and downs.”

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