Officials Call Karzai’s Council Part of Strategic Partnership Process

WASHINGTON, Nov. 16, 2011 — Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai�offered 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)