USA/Afghanistan — Obama, Karzai Reaffirm Goals, U.S.-Afghan Partnership

WASHINGTON — Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma and Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai today reaf­firmed the shared U.S. and Afghan goals to defeat al-Qai­da and to estab­lish good gov­er­nance and a grow­ing econ­o­my in Afghanistan.

The two men spoke to the White House press corps after a meet­ing in the Oval Office this morn­ing. The meet­ing is part of a four-day vis­it by Karzai and his min­is­ters to the Unit­ed States.

“Today, we are reaf­firm­ing our shared goal to dis­rupt, dis­man­tle and defeat al-Qai­da and its extrem­ist allies in Afghanistan and Pak­istan, and to pre­vent its capac­i­ty to threat­en Amer­i­ca and our allies in the future,” Oba­ma said. “We are review­ing the progress of our shared strat­e­gy and objec­tives: a mil­i­tary effort to reverse the Taliban’s momen­tum and to strength­en Afghanistan’s capac­i­ty to pro­vide for their own secu­ri­ty; a civil­ian effort to pro­mote good gov­er­nance and devel­op­ment; and region­al coop­er­a­tion, includ­ing with Pak­istan, because our strat­e­gy has to suc­ceed on both sides of the bor­der.”

One rea­son for the meet­ing is to assuage Afghan lead­ers’ fears that the Unit­ed States will not stay with the nation for the long run.

“As we pur­sue our shared strat­e­gy to defeat al-Qai­da, I’m pleased that our two coun­tries are work­ing to broad­en our strate­gic part­ner­ship over the long term,” Oba­ma said. “Even as we begin to tran­si­tion secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty to Afghans over the next year, we will sus­tain a robust com­mit­ment in Afghanistan going for­ward.” Karzai thanked Oba­ma for ded­i­cat­ing per­son­nel and finan­cial resources to his coun­try.

“Yes­ter­day, I had the hon­or of vis­it­ing Wal­ter Reed Hos­pi­tal, where I vis­it­ed with the wound­ed who had returned from Afghanistan and from Iraq,” Karzai said. “It was a very dif­fi­cult moment for me, Mr. Pres­i­dent, to meet with a young man – very, very young man – who had lost two arms and legs. It was heart-rend­ing. And there were oth­er wound­ed, too, just like I have seen in Afghanistan.

“I once again would like to con­vey to you and to the peo­ple of the Unit­ed States our deep, heart­felt grat­i­tude to the help that Amer­i­ca has pro­vid­ed,” Karzai said. “Afghanistan, because of that, is once again on the world map in a sig­nif­i­cant­ly impor­tant way. Our flag is fly­ing all around the world. We are present in all the impor­tant occa­sions. We once again have a voice as the peo­ple of Afghanistan. And this would have not been pos­si­ble with­out the sac­ri­fices and the resources that the Unit­ed States and our oth­er allies have put in. Afghanistan is grate­ful. Afghanistan will def­i­nite­ly, with your help, suc­ceed towards the future.”

The two pres­i­dents also dis­cussed the Afghan-Amer­i­can strate­gic part­ner­ship and future rela­tions. They dis­cussed issues deal­ing with the region and Afghanistan’s dif­fi­cul­ties and con­cerns with regard to capac­i­ty, insti­tu­tion build­ing, the buildup of the Afghan secu­ri­ty forces, the Afghan econ­o­my and issues of agri­cul­ture and ener­gy. They also dis­cussed devel­op­ment issues and U.S. con­tri­bu­tions toward that effort.

Oba­ma said there is no deny­ing the progress that the Afghan peo­ple have made in recent years in edu­ca­tion, in health care and eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment. “Nor, how­ev­er, can we deny the very seri­ous chal­lenges still fac­ing Afghanistan,” he said. “After 30 years of war, Afghanistan still faces dai­ly chal­lenges in deliv­er­ing basic ser­vices and secu­ri­ty to its peo­ple, while con­fronting a bru­tal insur­gency.”

Whether Afghanistan suc­ceeds will have con­se­quences for the Unit­ed States and the entire world, Oba­ma said. “As we’ve seen in recent plots here in the Unit­ed States,” he said, “al-Qai­da and its extrem­ist allies con­tin­ue to plot in the bor­der regions between Afghanistan and Pak­istan, and a grow­ing Tal­iban insur­gency could mean an even larg­er safe haven for al-Qai­da and its affil­i­ates.”

In Decem­ber, Oba­ma put a new U.S. strat­e­gy in place and said he would deploy 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Half of those troops are in the coun­try now, with the rest due in by the end of the sum­mer.

“We’re part­ner­ing with Afghan and coali­tion forces, and we’ve begun to reverse the momen­tum of the insur­gency,” Oba­ma said. “We have tak­en the fight to the Tal­iban in Hel­mand province, pushed them out of their strong­hold in Mar­ja, and are work­ing to give Afghans the oppor­tu­ni­ty to reclaim their com­mu­ni­ties.”

Oba­ma not­ed that coali­tion forces have tak­en extra­or­di­nary mea­sures to avoid civil­ian casu­al­ties.

“I reit­er­at­ed in my meet­ing with Pres­i­dent Karzai that the Unit­ed States will con­tin­ue to work with our Afghan and inter­na­tion­al part­ners to do every­thing in our pow­er to avoid actions that harm the Afghan peo­ple,” Oba­ma said. “After all, it’s the Afghan peo­ple we are work­ing to pro­tect from the Tal­iban, which is respon­si­ble for the vast major­i­ty of inno­cent civil­ian deaths.”

The U.S. pres­i­dent said train­ing Afghan secu­ri­ty forces con­tin­ues, and both pres­i­dents expect the trans­fer of secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty to Afghan forces to begin in the sum­mer of 2011.

Karzai com­mit­ted to take addi­tion­al steps to improve the lives of the Afghan peo­ple in con­crete ways, espe­cial­ly with regard to the rule of law, agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion, eco­nom­ic growth and the deliv­ery of basic ser­vices. “I pledged America’s con­tin­ued sup­port for these efforts,” Oba­ma said.

Final­ly, Karzai briefed Oba­ma on the upcom­ing peace jir­ga – or assem­bly — sched­uled for May 29. The jir­ga will allow Afghans of all per­sua­sions to dis­cuss the way for­ward. Oba­ma said the Unit­ed States sup­ports the jir­ga and also “sup­ports the efforts of the Afghan gov­ern­ment to open the door to Tal­iban who cut their ties to al-Qai­da, aban­don vio­lence and accept the Afghan con­sti­tu­tion, includ­ing respect for human rights.”

Many dif­fi­cult days may lie ahead in Afghanistan, Oba­ma acknowl­edged, not­ing that the ene­my is ruth­less and deter­mined. “But we go for­ward with con­fi­dence,” he added, “because we have some­thing that our adver­saries do not. We have a com­mit­ment to seek a future of jus­tice and peace and oppor­tu­ni­ty for the Afghan peo­ple.” Oba­ma also thanked the men and women in uni­form and their civil­ian com­pa­tri­ots for the extra­or­di­nary sac­ri­fices they make every day, and said today’s meet­ing should be a sign that the Unit­ed States and Afghanistan are unit­ed in the effort.

“Our sol­i­dar­i­ty today sends an unmis­tak­able mes­sage to those who would stand in the way of Afghanistan’s progress: They may threat­en and mur­der inno­cent peo­ple, but we will work to pro­tect the Afghan peo­ple,” he said. “They will try to destroy, but we will con­tin­ue to help build Afghan capac­i­ty and allow Afghans to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for their coun­try. They will try to dri­ve us apart, but we will part­ner with the Afghan peo­ple for the long term toward a future of greater secu­ri­ty, pros­per­i­ty, jus­tice and progress. And I’m absolute­ly con­vinced we will suc­ceed.”

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