Officials Reaffirm Commitment to Afghan Strategy

WASHINGTON, Feb. 27, 2012 — The riot­ing and killings that have fol­lowed the acci­den­tal burn­ing of Qurans by coali­tion per­son­nel will not change the NATO strat­e­gy in Afghanistan, Pen­ta­gon Press Sec­re­tary George Lit­tle said today.

Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta and Army Gen. Mar­tin E. Dempsey, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are ful­ly com­mit­ted to con­tin­u­ing oper­a­tions aimed at turn­ing over secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty to Afghan forces by the end of 2014, Lit­tle said. 

Panet­ta and Dempsey “believe we have achieved sig­nif­i­cant progress in revers­ing the Taliban’s momen­tum and in devel­op­ing the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces, and they believe that the fun­da­men­tals of our strat­e­gy remain sound,” Lit­tle said in a Pen­ta­gon news con­fer­ence, joined by Pen­ta­gon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kir­by, who spoke to the Pen­ta­gon press corps from the Afghan cap­i­tal of Kabul. 

Afghans riot­ed fol­low­ing the rev­e­la­tion that NATO forces inad­ver­tent­ly burned Islam­ic reli­gious arti­cles, includ­ing Qurans. Four Amer­i­cans have been killed, includ­ing two offi­cers serv­ing as advi­sors in the Afghan inte­ri­or min­istry in Kabul. 

It is impor­tant that the recent events not blind peo­ple to the progress being made in the coun­try, Lit­tle said. The NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force, in part­ner­ship with Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces, is mak­ing progress in defeat­ing al-Qai­da and its ter­ror­ist allies and deny­ing them the abil­i­ty to main­tain a safe haven in Afghanistan, he added. 

Afghan riot­ing is decreas­ing, with only three demon­stra­tions held today, Kir­by said, not­ing that ISAF lead­ers have joined with Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai in urg­ing calm and an end to vio­lent protests. 

“We appre­ci­ate the steps Pres­i­dent Karzai is tak­ing to quell vio­lence in the coun­try, and we com­mend the hard work and sac­ri­fice of the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces who have suf­fered casu­al­ties attempt­ing to quell the vio­lence,” Lit­tle said. “We respect the right of all Afghans to peace­ful protest, but fur­ther blood­shed serves nei­ther the coali­tion nor the Afghan peo­ple, who are them­selves falling vic­tim to violence.” 

Lit­tle said the rela­tion­ship between ISAF forces and their Afghan part­ners remains strong, point­ing out that U.S. forces work with 330,000 Afghan secu­ri­ty forces to defend the coun­try. “Togeth­er, they fight in very dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tions, build­ing trust and mutu­al respect despite recent inci­dents,” the press sec­re­tary said. 

The spir­it of Amer­i­can, coali­tion and Afghan forces will be test­ed through­out the cam­paign in Afghanistan, Lit­tle said. “Any­one who believes they can weak­en our resolve through these cow­ard­ly attacks is severe­ly mis­tak­en,” he added. 

The coali­tion will emerge from the chal­lenges stronger and more uni­fied, Lit­tle said. “There is much at stake in Afghanistan, and our com­mit­ment to our mis­sion and our strat­e­gy will not waver,” he said. 

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

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