Panetta Meets Afghan Defense, Interior Ministers at Pentagon
By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON, April 10, 2012 - The goal of a sovereign, secure Afghanistan is in sight, Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak said here today at the beginning of the Afghanistan Security Consultation Forum.
Panetta congratulated both Afghan leaders for the progress the military and police are making. "I have often stated that I believe 2011 was a turning point, that we suddenly were able to see that the Afghan army and police developed the capabilities to provide security and have developed capabilities to implement the kind of operations that are necessary to providing security," he said.
Strong Afghan military and police forces are needed to make the transition to local security lead, he said.
The secretary also spoke about the memorandum of understanding between the United States and Afghanistan on special operations signed April 8. "The fact that we were able to achieve an agreement, I think, was a very important step forward to ensure that we will make the transition to Afghan operations, but we will do it in a responsible and effective way," Panetta said. "I thank both of you for the leadership that you've provided in being able to achieve those very important agreements."
The forum looked at the future of the Afghan national security forces, the levels that they will surge to and the levels the nation will need for the long run, Panetta said.
"I look forward to discussing our strategic partnership and our ability to arrive at a strategic partnership agreement, which will again be another important step forward in our relationship, and also the regional security challenges that we will have to continue to confront in order to ultimately have a sovereign Afghanistan that can in fact be secure and govern itself," he said.
Wardak thanked the United States for its "sterling contribution" to Afghanistan. "And we are not an ungrateful nation," he said. "We fully recognize your generosity. We acknowledge and honor your sacrifices. We pay tribute to all those brave souls that have paid the ultimate price for the mission in Afghanistan, and we pray for the families of the fallen and wounded."
Afghanistan is at a critical juncture, Wardak said. "But after the years of struggle, tomorrow's goal is in sight," he said. "The costs have been high and the stakes even higher, but the good news is that the hope has been replaced by the real progress, though it has been dearly bought."
Continued U.S. support and cooperation will remain vital for the Afghan forces to transition to the security lead in the years ahead, he said.
"No one should have any doubt on our firm determination to succeed," the defense minister said. "It's a question of our national survival. And we do not wish to be a burden on the U.S. or the rest of the international community more than it is required."
"We assure you that we will spare no effort and sacrifices to ensure the inevitability of our victory in this joint endeavor," Wardak said.
The interior minister also expressed his gratitude for "all of the sacrifices, lost lives and treasures of this country that have been sacrificed for our mutual goals for the survival of our nation in Afghanistan."
In the past decade, coalition and Afghan forces have had many successes and many accomplishments, Muhammadi said through a translator. "We have seen many victories in southern Afghanistan, in eastern Afghanistan, in all of Afghanistan," he said, adding that the visit comes during "a time of destiny" as Afghanistan goes through a transitional process.
By this time next year, the transition process shifting responsibility from the coalition to Afghan security forces will be well under way, Muhammadi said. "I am certain that these face-to-face meetings that we have in this framework of the security consultation forum will pave the way for a successful conference in Chicago," he said.
Leon E. Panetta