Gates Welcomes Afghan Leaders for Inaugural Forum

WASHINGTON, Feb. 23, 2011 — Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates wel­comed Afghanistan’s defense and inte­ri­or min­is­ters to the Pen­ta­gon today for the first of what offi­cials expect to be reg­u­lar meet­ings to sus­tain a long-term mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, center, escorts Afghan Interior Minister Bismullah Mohammadi, left, and Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, right, into the Pentagon for a security consultation forum, Feb. 23, 2011
Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates, cen­ter, escorts Afghan Inte­ri­or Min­is­ter Bis­mul­lah Moham­ma­di, left, and Defense Min­is­ter Abdul Rahim War­dak, right, into the Pen­ta­gon for a secu­ri­ty con­sul­ta­tion forum, Feb. 23, 2011.
DOD pho­to by R.D. Ward
Click to enlarge

The U.S.-Afghanistan rela­tion­ship “is bond­ed in the blood of our sons and daugh­ters,” Gates told Afghan Defense Min­is­ter Abdul Rahim War­dak and Afghan Inte­ri­or Min­is­ter Besmil­lah Khan Moham­ma­di before the three men and their senior staffs began their meet­ing.

The admin­is­tra­tion of Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai already has made much progress, and the Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces have made “tremen­dous progress” in help­ing to secure the coun­try, Gates said. The growth of Afghanistan’s army and nation­al police and their increas­ing abil­i­ty to lead secu­ri­ty oper­a­tions has been “tru­ly impres­sive,” he added.

More than 5,000 Afghan forces have been killed in action since 2006, the sec­re­tary not­ed, adding that their sac­ri­fice is “some­thing we appre­ci­ate and hon­or.”

War­dak said the Afghan casu­al­ties “are our patri­ot­ic duty,” and added that Afghans are “extreme­ly grate­ful for the sac­ri­fices of your sons and daugh­ters who fought from so far away.”

“I strong­ly believe that our great­est trib­ute to them will be to real­ize the objec­tives of those brave sol­diers who paid the ulti­mate price,” he added. Afghans have “pro­found grat­i­tude and ever­last­ing appre­ci­a­tion” to the Unit­ed States, War­dak said. He added to Gates, “We are thank­ful for your per­son­al engage­ment and lead­er­ship, … and I believe we will pre­vail.”

Afghan lead­ers are look­ing for a clos­er and stronger rela­tion­ship with U.S. lead­ers, War­dak said. “What­ev­er we have achieved, we could not have accom­plished with­out your sup­port,” he said.

Afghanistan had only a very basic foun­da­tion when U.S. forces began oper­a­tions there in the fall of 2001 to dri­ve out the Tal­iban, and clear progress has tak­en place since then, War­dak said.

Though plans call for Afghanistan’s secu­ri­ty forces to be respon­si­ble for the entire country’s secu­ri­ty by the end of 2014, Afghanistan still will need U.S. help, War­dak said. “I do strong­ly believe that for Afghanistan to sur­vive in that very volatile region, we need your help beyond 2014,” he said.

The meet­ing was the first of the U.S.-Afghanistan Secu­ri­ty Con­sul­ta­tions Forum, which Gates said he estab­lished “as an insti­tu­tion beyond 2014,” when U.S. mil­i­tary forces are sched­uled to leave Afghanistan.

The forum includ­ed Michèle Flournoy, under­sec­re­tary of defense for pol­i­cy; Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and oth­er defense offi­cials to dis­cuss build­ing long-term coop­er­a­tion between the two coun­tries, as well as issues of imme­di­ate impor­tance, accord­ing to a Defense Depart­ment state­ment.

The sec­re­tary said he hopes the forum would meet twice a year to dis­cuss shared expec­ta­tions for Afghanistan, to set spe­cif­ic goals and objec­tives, and to demon­strate to oth­ers in the Cen­tral Asia region that the U.S.-Afghanistan part­ner­ship is putting Afghanistan on a path of improve­ment.

The meet­ings includ­ed a review of secu­ri­ty gains across Afghanistan in 2010, par­tic­u­lar­ly in Hel­mand and Kan­da­har provinces, where improved secu­ri­ty pro­vid­ed by a surge of Afghan and NATO forces has enabled greater Afghan free­dom of move­ment, com­merce, and devel­op­ment, offi­cials said.

Talks focused on how to build on those gains this year, offi­cials added, par­tic­u­lar­ly in tran­si­tion­ing secu­ri­ty to the Afghans.

Pen­ta­gon spokesman Marine Corps Col. Dave Lapan told reporters that the lead­ers would meet for sev­er­al hours today.

“This is look­ing to the future for a sus­tained and endur­ing rela­tion­ship with Afghanistan as a coun­try, but also with the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces,” he said.

The Afghan min­is­ters and Gates also will dis­cuss the gains of the last year and what needs to hap­pen in the future to con­tin­ue the progress, Lapan added.

“What will it look like past 2014?” he said. “These dis­cus­sions will look beyond at what our rela­tion­ship will be and what U.S. mil­i­tary sup­port will be need­ed after that date.”

(Jim Gara­mone of Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice con­tributed to this report.)

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

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