Joint Press Conference by Secretary Carter and Afghanistan Minister Stanekzai in Jalalabad, Afghanistan

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter; Afghanistan Minister of Defense Muhammed Masoom Stanekzai


SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ASH CARTER: All right. Very good. Well, good afternoon to everyone here today, American and Afghan. Thank you very much. Minister Stanekzai, thank you for joining me here today, and for your steadfast leadership of the Afghan Ministry of Defense.

We just had a very constructive meeting on the current security situation here in Afghanistan, and as -- and our partnership as we head into the New Year and the years thereafter.

It's clear that in you, and in Afghan leaders like President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah, we have strong partners with a common vision focused on a secure and prosperous future for the Afghan people.

I would also like to thank General Campbell for his leadership, and for ordinary dedication to the future of this nation. And let me express my thanks to all the men and women of our Armed Forces serving in Afghanistan and around the world, in this -- for us -- holiday season.

To those brave Americans here today, I want to say how proud Stephanie, my wife, who's here with me on this holiday visit -- how proud we are, the DOD family and the American family is of you and your families.

I know it's tough to be away from your families during this time of year, but the sacrifices you're making are giving people all around the world, including here in Afghanistan, the opportunity to live their own lives, with their families, in peace, to dream their dreams and to live lives that are full.

Back in March, during his first official visit to the U.S., President Ghani came to the Pentagon and did something very special, very important. He said thank you to the men and women of the U.S. military for the sacrifices they and their families have made over the last 14 years. He also visited Arlington National Cemetery to remember the fallen. It was an important message.

And I want to take this opportunity to deliver my own message to the Afghan people. We're with you. We stand by you. And we must continue to work hard together to do what we said we would do -- give a bright future to the Afghan people and a strong security partner to America.

One of my first actions as secretary of defense was to travel here to Afghanistan, to get an accurate picture of the progress of the mission here. That remains one of my top priorities as secretary of defense.

Over the past year, together we have made gains that will put Afghanistan on a better path. More work lies ahead, and the national security of both our nations remains very much at stake. But we will succeed.

The Taliban's advances in some parts of the country, even if only temporary, underscore that this is a tough fight, and it's far from over. It's also a dynamic fight.

And as groups like ISIL emerge on the battlefield, or al-Qaeda seeks to reestablish a safe haven, we must be prepared to deter their growth and counter the threats they pose. We will be prepared to do that. They can never have a secure base here in Nangarhar or anywhere else in Afghanistan.

That's why, in October, after considering input from me and the rest of his advisers, our NATO allies and our colleagues in the government of Afghanistan, President Obama announced his decision to maintain our current force posture of 9,800 troops through most of next year.

By January 2017, U.S. forces will be at 5,500 troops and they will be deployed at several locations around Afghanistan, including Kabul, Bagram, Kandahar and here in Jalalabad. At places like Forward Operating Base Fenty.

Shortly I will submit the U.S. defense budget for 2017. It contains full funding for the Afghan security forces. So we're looking years ahead. Our forces will work in those years ahead in support of two important and enduring missions. Our train, advise and assist support to the Afghan security forces, and our counter-terrorism efforts.

The U.S. presence that would be sustained here at Fenty will continue to serve both of these missions, and represents the importance that we place in our continued partnership with Afghanistan and the enduring nature of U.S. interests here.

We're constantly seeking ways to increase the capability and capacity of the Afghan forces. As our annual assessment of the Afghan security forces demonstrates, there's much progress to be made in key areas such as intelligence and special forces. Ministerial development. Logistics and aviation. These gaps were not an anticipated, we've know these are critical areas which must be improved and are being improved. But as our report also indicates, the Afghan security forces is a force well worth investing in. It's a force that has the motivation and the resiliency required to ensure the long-term success of our partnership and the security and stability that the Afghan people deserve.

U.S. and NATO troops will tailor their train, advise and assist efforts to ensure that Afghan security forces capacity continues on an upward trajectory. For example, in the next few months the Afghan Air Force will start to take off with greater firepower into the air. A-29s arrive and provide close air support, which will be a key element to increasing the superiority of Afghan forces over Taliban forces.

So I want to once again thank Minister Stanekzai for everything he has done to bring us to this point of promise, potential and strength. And I want to again, to express my thanks to the American, NATO and Afghan contingents who have served and sacrificed together over the past 14 years in the name of peace, security and freedom.

Thank you, I look forward to your questions.

MINISTER OF DEFENSE MOHAMMED MASOOM STANEKZAI: (UNTRANSLATED)

SEC. CARTER: Thank you.

STAFF: We have time now for a question from the U.S. -- (inaudible).

Q: First question. Gordon Lubold of The Wall Street Journal. Hi gentlemen, I have a question for each of you. The secretary, we've been with you and you've been talking a lot about Islamic state here in the last few days. Wondering if you could address the issue here. We've learned that the Islamic state law may be having a limited presence in Afghanistan is, nonetheless, muddying the waters and making it kind of -- changing the dynamic on the ground.

And then, minister, Afghan government pushed the U.S. to extend the stay of U.S. troops, and -- and that happened. What are your now concerns and your asks of the U.S. Government as you sit here now?

Thank you.

SEC. CARTER: Thank you. First, with respect to ISIL here in Afghanistan, yesterday and the day before we were in Syria [sic] and Iraq from -- which is the -- the home tumor of this movement. We are seeing little nests of ISIL spring up around the world. Including here in Afghanistan. And that -- and that's an important dimension of the counter-terrorism fight here in Afghanistan, but I will say that -- that in -- that is a -- a threat that we track very closely. It's one we're determined to defeat. Not just here in Afghanistan, but around the world. And we will defeat. And here -- it'll be here in Afghanistan with our Afghan partners.

The -- just to remind you all, in Afghanistan there are actually, sadly, quite a number of different terrorist groups.

From al-Qaeda and various different parts of the Taliban movement to groups like the IMU that have been around for a long time. And these groups are constantly reconstituting themselves, reorganizing themselves, and accordingly, they show different behaviors and different -- attention at different times. Different parts of the Afghan geography. And, therefore, Minister Stanekzai and I were talking about this today, the Afghan security forces with our help are getting more and more agile. So as nests spring up in different parts of Afghanistan the -- the Afghan security forces can shift their weight of effort from the Kunduz area to the Helmand area and back, for example.

And that's not all just about ISIL. That's about various pieces of Taliban, and you all know that the Taliban network itself is a complicated and fractured body, which argues among itself. So there are a number of different groups here. Some of them claim to ally with ISIL. Some of them don't.

But it's all part of one package of terrorism, and that's an important part of the joint mission of the United States and Afghanistan and the international community here: to make sure that Afghanistan is itself not afflicted by terrorism and never again becomes a source of terrorism around the world.

MIN. STANEKZAI: Thank you very much for your question, and I think the first reason why we asked the extension of the -- the U.S. forces to stay in Afghanistan was because we are not only facing the threat of Taliban, but the threat of the al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, firstly inside Afghanistan, and they continue to pose the threat.

So that is -- that is an issue that -- one country alone cannot tackle the problem of terrorism. So this is why we are asking that extension.

And the second part of your question, that -- what we want from the U.S., I think that was clear in our both statements. We need the long-term commitment, because you need the -- the -- the predictability so that you can plan better, and you can achieve the goals that you envision.

And secondly, we need flexibility, conditional based, that will be very much important in term of assuring that we are not making the mistakes that -- premature, or more importantly, if the situation change, if there is progress, then that can be adjusted.

And thirdly, I think the partnership, it is -- it is what is the centrality, the backbone, of our cooperation for the future, and I think that will be critically important for regional stability.

STAFF: First question on the Afghan side, to -- (inaudible).

Q: Ziar, journalist of TOLOnews in Eastern Afghanistan.

The first question is from defense minister of U.S. The question is this: that John Campbell said in -- last week that Daesh want to make their center in Nangarhar province, and they want the center of this province for terrorism -- Daesh want to send.

And also (inaudible) -- in Nangarhar, in all of Afghanistan, Afghan forces said that American forces, Europe forces don't help with the Afghan forces in operations. What's the reason that they are -- don't help, American, U.S. -- Europe forces don't help with Afghan forces in operations?

And also, what's the reason Daesh want to center the -- this province for terrorism?

SEC. CARTER: Well, first of all, on -- on the present -- pardon me -- or Daesh, as it's -- as -- as it's sometimes called. They are trying to create little nests wherever they feel that there's an opportunity. And General Campbell is reflecting the fact that we have some information that suggests they seek to find an opportunity here in Nangarhar.

That's good information to have, because it'll allow us to focus our efforts on what they're doing here in ISIL -- in -- in Nangarhar, and make sure they -- they don't have a nest here in Nangarhar.

So they're a very opportunistic group, like all terrorists are, and they'll go where they think they can be safe. They're not going to be safe here in Nangarhar. And we'll make sure, with our Afghan colleagues, that that is the case.

With respect to Afghan air forces, the U.S. forces and coalition forces are providing air help to Afghan forces. It's not as much as in the past, but we are doing it.

And the -- the point, though, is that the future for Afghanistan that we're building together is one where they have their own air forces. That's why the importance of the delivery of the A-29 here is so important.

For those of you who don't know, that is a fighter aircraft, basically, that can do close air support. That will be Afghan-only, Afghan operated. And the same is true of all the helicopters that are being delivered to Afghanistan, and that Afghan pilots are being delivered -- are being trained for, rather.

So U.S. forces are helping Afghan forces from the air, not as much as in the past. But that's part of the plan, which is to get to the point where Afghans are able to provide their own air support.

And that's why the build-up of the Afghan air force that's going on right now, that we wish we had started earlier, but we -- but we're -- we're -- is now underway, and will be completed over the next year or so -- why doing that's so important: so Afghanistan will have its own sovereign air force.

STAFF: Next question, Bill Hennigan -- (inaudible).

Q: Mr. Secretary, according to a Pentagon report this -- that came out this week, there's been a spike in violence and high casualty rates among Afghan forces. Based off of the conversations you've had today, how do you plan to turn that around for next year?

And, Mr. Minister, what is your current assessment of the security environment here in Afghanistan?

SEC. CARTER: Well, there -- no doubt about it, there's been heavy fighting here in Afghanistan over the last year. The -- and Afghan security forces have suffered losses.

And of course that -- we -- that's very tragic, and we know how it feels in your heart when you lose countrymen here. We've lost many ourselves, and so we honor those Afghan forces that passed.

But fundamentally, the reason is that they have been fighting so hard. They have been in the fight, engaged, and performing extremely well in -- in inflicting defeats upon the enemy here.

And I expect, in the next year, for the fighting to be hard, too. But I -- but -- it's -- the reason that the minister and I are meeting here today is to make sure that, next year and every year thereafter, the Afghan forces get stronger and stronger and stronger.

They get more mobile, they have their own air power, they have their own intelligence, they have their own command and control -- that's the future for the Afghan security forces.

So we expect that they're going to keep fighting, because the enemy isn't going to go away overnight. But they're going to get more and more effective.

But I very much admire the toughness of the Afghan security forces, and the hard fighting they've done me this year. It's -- it is to their credit that they have fought so hard.

MIN. STANEKZAI: I think as it was said by -- (inaudible) -- secretary that it is a challenging environment. It was a heavy fighting this year. But -- (inaudible) -- is also quite clear because we took that responsibility to -- to lead security provision of security to the Afghan people by ourself, but with the support of our international and U.S. colleagues.

And -- and for that reason, what I -- I -- I can assure that our forces stand very firmly. They sacrifice for the country, they defend the country. We have the ability to respond very quickly to areas where there were (inaudible) at some point, like Kunduz and others. Very quickly we -- we took those situations back under control. And I think the ability of our forces, the experience of the forces is improving. And apart from that, there are other initiatives under way by the civilian leadership of the country to reach out to the people, we have to have a multi-prong approach in order to stabilize that -- (inaudible). We should not put everything on the shoulder of the military. There is the issue of economy, there is the issue of jobs, there is the issue of building the regional consensus and reaching out to the people who are disenfranchised.

So these are all the combination of the efforts and order to -- to really succeed in Afghanistan.

Let me to respond to the question of -- (inaudible) -- because -- (inaudible).

(UNTRANSLATED)

Q: (UNTRANSLATED)

MIN. STANEKZAI: (UNTRANSLATED)

STAFF: Mr. Minister, Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.

SEC. CARTER: Thank you.