WASHINGTON, Nov. 23, 2010 — The Afghan people have the lead role in the reconciliation talks with the Taliban, and the United States serves only as a facilitator, specifically for the safe transportation of people to meet with the Afghan government, the Pentagon’s top spokesman said today on MSNBC.
“We’ve also said for a long time the security situation on the ground has to change a little more before we see real progress in terms of high-level reconciliation,” said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates supports “keeping the pressure on the Taliban even more than we already are, change the dynamic on the ground even more than it already has, so they finally feel the pressure enough to finally come to the negotiating table,” Morrell said.
The departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is slated to begin in July 2011, but U.S. forces will remain in Afghanistan beyond that date until 2014, Morrell said.
“[July 2011] is the beginning of a process, condition-based, to draw down forces for exiting in 2014,” he said. “Anybody who’s followed this closely knows this was not going to end in 2011. The president never suggested such. We always knew this was going to be a lengthy process. There’s far more work to be done than we can achieve in the next eight months.” Morrell said the security situation in Afghanistan is improving.
“We’re seeing a lot more reintegration, [such as] low-level fighters giving up and wanting to end their alliance with the Taliban, and join the government,” he said.
Turning to another topic, Morrell said ratification of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty is vital to national security.
“On the merits, if START is defeated it would be a big setback for us in terms of national security,” he said. “We would have no verification, as we don’t right now, of what the Russians and nuclear forces are up to. We’d have to divert intelligence assets that are badly needed elsewhere, to monitor what they are doing on the ground.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)