WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2011 — Afghan President Hamid Karzaiï¿½offered encouraging confirmation of the developing strategic relationship between his nation and the United States during a grand council gathering under way in Afghanistan, Defense Department officials said today.
Karzai is hosting the grand council or “loya jirga,” a four-day gathering of more than 2,000 tribal leaders.
“We’re watching the loya jirga very closely,” Pentagon Press Secretary George Little told reporters. “This is obviously a very important traditional Afghan institution, and we welcome President Karzai’s endorsement of the strategic partnership.”
Karzai reportedly told council members he would insist military “night raids” cease as one condition for U.S. troops to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2014, when the transfer to Afghan security lead is set to be complete.
The two nations have been working closely together to frame a long-term strategic partnership, Little said, and those discussions are ongoing and will go on for some time.
“On the specific issue of the night raids, the key point for us is that these operations are conducted jointly with the Afghans,” he added. “We expect Afghan participation in night raids to increase over time. And it’s worth noting that 85 percent of these operations are conducted without a single shot being fired.”
Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby said while defense officials understand and share the Afghan president’s concern over possible civilian injuries during night operations, the raids perform “a very valuable and necessary function.”
“Nobody wants to see innocent civilians hurt,” Kirby added.
Kirby and Little both stressed that while U.S. officials and military leaders are focused on developing a strong partnership with their Afghan counterparts, many particulars of that relationship remain to be determined.
“We don’t want to get … out ahead of any discussions that are taking place,” Little said. “Yes, we do want to have a long-term strategic partnership, but specific components of that partnership are still to be defined.
“We obviously want to work closely in concert with the government of Afghanistan to define the parameters of that enduring partnership, but it’s too early to say,” he continued. “We’re in 2011, and our commitment … goes on at least until 2014 and, we hope, beyond that.”
Little said International Security Assistance Force troops and Afghan forces have succeeded in containing many enemy attacks in Afghanistan.
“This has been a much different fighting season than we’ve seen in previous years,” the press secretary noted. “We’ve seen [the] tactics of the enemy change, and we believe that’s in large part due to the significant pressure we brought to bear on them.”
Difficult challenges are ahead in Afghanistan, Little added, but Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta has full confidence in Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen’s leadership as ISAF commander.
Allen’s troops and their Afghan counterparts are “[bringing] pressure on the Taliban and the Haqqanis and other insurgents that are disrupting Afghan life and attacking the United States and our partner nations,” Little said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)