Thank you very much, Mr President. I am very happy to be back in Kabul and meet with you again.
We are on track to reach the goal we set together with you, Mr President, in Lisbon: an Afghanistan with Afghans fully in charge of their own security by the end of 2014. That goal remains unchanged. Our timetable remains unchanged. And our commitment to our partnership with the Afghan people beyond 2014, remains strong.
We have very good reasons to be confident in the future. The thousands of brave and dedicated Afghans who are working, training, and fighting every day with ISAF troops. And infact earlier today, I saw Afghan special forces in training. And I can tell you Mr. President, you can be very proud of them.
Every day, Afghan security forces are becoming stronger and more capable. They participate in all ISAF special operations and increasingly they are also taking the lead. They have taken the lead in forty percent of all conventional operations. They have the security lead for areas where fifty percent of Afghans live. And I hope that we will soon see them take the lead for more districts and provinces. Because we are all working towards the same goal: a stable and peaceful Afghanistan, which can never again become a safe haven for terrorists.
Five weeks from now, we will meet again in Chicago. Together with the leaders of the 50 members of our ISAF coalition – infact one quarter of the world’s nations – we will map out the next phase of transition. As Afghan forces step forward to take the lead for security across the country, ISAF will move into a supporting role, but we will remain ready and able to conduct combat operations when necessary.
But our support will not end in 2014. In Chicago, we will agree how NATO will provide the training, assistance and support that your security forces need once transition is complete. And we will play our part in providing the necessary funding to keep those forces strong.
And let me be clear: NATO is here as Afghanistan’s partner for the long term. That is our message to the people of Afghanistan, to the enemies of Afghanistan, and also to Afghanistan’s neighbours.
HAMID KARZAI (President of Afghanistan): In the name of god, ladies and gentlemen, members of the national and international media, you're most welcome to our press conference today. I'm honoured and pleased to welcome to Kabul His Excellency, NATO Secretary General Mr. Rasmussen.
This is, I believe, one of the several trips he's made to Afghanistan. Our relationship goes even beyond Mr. Secretary General's position as the Secretary General of NATO. It goes back to the time when he served as the Prime Minister of Denmark, and there we were given a very warm reception and welcome and for which we remain grateful and we have very good memories of our time meeting him even then.
And we also remain thankful and grateful for all the assistance his country has been making to Afghanistan. And in his capacity as the Secretary General of NATO he has started to be even more interested in helping Afghanistan. He has made several trips to Afghanistan and when he took over as a Secretary General Afghanistan and NATO started to strengthen its relationships even further, including signing several important partnership treatment documents today. We discussed on a number of issues of mutual interest, including further weaponing and training of Afghanistan Security Forces, the transition process where we expect the third phase would start, and for the goal of the sovereignty of Afghanistan which we hope the third process will soon also start.
And we also talked about the big upcoming Chicago conference about our expectations of the NATO and ISAF member countries and other countries' contributions to Afghanistan. We also spoke about the continued funding for the Afghanistan Security Forces past 2014.
So overall the discussions were very productive, very fruitful and I thank Mr. Secretary General's efforts and his personal dedication, and for everything NATO and his organization has done to Afghanistan. And I once again welcome him to Afghanistan. Most welcome, Mr. Secretary General.
MODERATOR: Mr. Secretary General, would you like to pick up the first question?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO Secretary General): Yes.
Q: Thank you, Mr. President. From 1 TV. My first question is to both of you Excellencies. The question is: Is a 120,000 of Afghan Forces will be reduced? Is reportedly to be reduced. So will the current size then be able to provide security for the country, while during the Najibullah's regime in the 1980s we had 500,000 troops and they were not able to provide security.
And the second question, Mr. President, is: Ten thousand foreign forces left Afghanistan last year and 20,000 more are to leave this year, and they have well capacity and equipment in Afghanistan. Don't you think that the foreign troops leave their equipment for the Afghan Forces?
And the third question is, Mr. President, that after the assassination of Professor Rabbani, the Peace Council is facing a management crisis now, a leadership crisis? When will the new chairman be chosen?
HAMID KARZAI: Well, on the issue of the reduction of Afghan Forces from the current size to a smaller size, is the question that as reported, but the decision is that at least until 2015 and 2016 the Afghan Forces continue with their current size, with their funding by the Afghan Allies and partners to continue.
So the question of how will the size look like after 2015 and '16 is the decision that will heavily hinge and depend on the situation on the ground and on the realities on then the ground and on the capacity that the Afghan Forces will have reached by then. So the government of Afghanistan will do whatever it takes to provide a reliable force for their nation; a force that is consistent to the needs of the Afghan people. We are not concerned of any reduction decisions. No such decision is made yet. We will continue with our consultations with the international community on what equipment we would need, on what size of the force we will need, on what plans do we need for a reliable and for a future.
And on the question of the High Peace Council, we expect that soon we will be announcing the new chief for the Council on which we have already made wide consultations with the elders and with notables on our next chief.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: As far as the size of the Afghan Security Forces is concerned the first point is that we will build up the level of... or the number of Afghan Security Forces to a level of 352,000. And we are on track, so when we hand over full responsibility for the security to the Afghan Security Forces by the end of 2014 we'll have 352,000 Afghan Security Forces.
No decision has been made yet as to how we will adapt that size in the years after 2014. Two factors will be decisive when we are going to determine the long-term sustainable size of the Afghan Security Forces.
One factor, of course, is the security situation on the ground, and another factor is the capacity of the Afghan Security Forces. The better the security situation, the more capable the Afghan Security Forces, the lower the number of Afghan Security Forces.
But I think it's a bit too early to make that final decision. We are right now considering that. The point is that the whole international community will stay committed to Afghanistan and stay committed to contribute to the financing of the Afghan Security Forces. So we will not abandon Afghanistan. We will continue to help and assist Afghanistan.
MODERATOR: All right. The second woman in the second row.
Q: Najiba (inaudible) from BBC. Mr. President, after the Kandahar incident, in a meeting that you had with the U.S. Secretary of Defense, you asked for the speeding up of the withdrawal process by 2013, while now Mr. Rasmussen just reaffirmed that the transition stays on track by 2014. How is the government assessing? Is the government still insisting on its earlier position of speeding up that process?
HAMID KARZAI: On the transition we and the international community share the same goal, which means in 2013 we have been making an effort that we wish that all the security responsibilities be given to Afghans. So we are making efforts and we share the same goal that by 2013 the responsibilities be handed over to Afghans, so we hope that this be completed starting 2013.
But then the question of withdrawal, of the exit of the foreign forces, will not be completed in 2013. The process of the exit that has already started will (inaudible...) 2014 when the transition will undergo its complete takeover. And that's when both the process, the transition of complete secure responsibility, full responsibility and the withdrawal of the forces will be completed by the end of 2014.
So there is one process for 2013, there is another for 2014. Two thousand and thirteen means the lead will be given to Afghans, except for a few provinces, or areas where we would still need the foreign forces' presence. But it will be 2014 when everything will be fully handed over, when everything will be completed, when the transition will have been completed, with the international forces leaving the country.
So this is the clarification. Except for the troops, that based on the agreements that we will make, including with the NATO, who will remain for training missions or other purposes on which we have already signed agreements on a strategic partnership with Italy, France and Britain, and with NATO was signed in Lisbon and with others, it's being negotiated. After preconditions are met, including the transfer of present authority and the special operations and all that, so we hope that we, with the Americans, enter into a partnership document where we can benefit from.
Q: Thank you. (Inaudible) from Kabul Journal. My question is to Mr. President. Mr. President, you issued an executive order yesterday on the special operations, including night operations. In the view of the safety that is expected to provide to Afghan homes, will it not also provide safety and immunity to the Taliban insurgents?
HAMID KARZAI: No, it in no way provides any immunity or safety to the Taliban insurgents. But on the other hand, it provides all the grounds for safety in the homes of Afghans. While we continue with our international fight against terrorism it's also our responsibility to safeguard Afghans' homes. No foreign or domestic force can enter Afghan homes outside the law against the international rights to where children or elderly or women get hurt.
So the government of Afghanistan has been making every possible effort to relieve the suffering and the pain that the people have long endured starting from the communists back to the time of regimes. This remained our central goal, to provide that safety to the sense of security and safety to the people of Afghanistan. To show to people that a government is their servant and is at their service, and that's the purpose. It remains to be the purpose.
I'm happy you came to know of yesterday's executive order.
Q: Secretary General, welcome to Afghanistan, again. My question is very simple. What guarantee you can give to Afghan people that 1992 would not be repeated again in Afghanistan after 2014? People in Afghanistan, if you go outside the palace, panicking now. They're worried. They're worried about their future. They think the civil war going to happen. And what guarantee that NATO have that all those countries that they're allied with NATO, they will stay in one voice behind 2014?
Mr. President, my question, 2014 is very important here for Afghanistan. Election, plus foreign forces will leave Afghanistan. And your government has been... there were lots of people were talking about this government did mistakes. You don't think you should be very generous and leave the government for someone else for one year and have the election in 2013 to someone else to use this golden period of Afghanistan another regime.
HAMID KARZAI: You mean to have the elections in 2013?
HAMID KARZAI: One year ahead of time.
Q: Yes, that will be history and it will be a great legacy for you, because everyone says it's a golden chance. It was a golden chance for Afghanistan here, and you were from the beginning till end.
HAMID KARZAI: Mm-mm.
Q: So let's give a chance to someone else. Give them their criticize...
HAMID KARZAI: We will give the chance, for sure.
Q: ...to criticizing your government, to do the same business with foreigners.
HAMID KARZAI: You mean. All right, I'll come to this question.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Thank you very much for your question. I think the best assurance I can give the Afghan people is that at the Chicago Summit, next month, we will decide that NATO will continue to lead a training mission in Afghanistan with a focus on training, assistance, advice, to the Afghan Security Forces. Which we will hand over full responsibility for the security to the Afghan Security Forces, but we will continue to help, to support the Afghan Security Forces. We will not leave behind a security vacuum. That's one thing.
The second element is that the whole international community committed itself at the Bonn conference in December, to help finance the Afghan Security Forces. Also beyond 2014. So the whole international community will stay committed to Afghanistan. As I have told the President previously, we want an Afghanistan that can stand on its own feet, but it will not stand alone. We will be there to help you.
But, basically, I think the very best assurance—you spoke about guarantees, but I don't know if guarantees exist in the real world—but the very best assurance we can give is the increasing capacity of your own Security Forces.
This morning I had a very, very positive experience, and I have a very positive story to tell when I go back to Europe. A very positive story about the capacity of Afghan Security Forces.
This morning I visited Camp Morehead, it's called, and I saw your very capable special forces in action. And I am very impressed by what I saw. And I have now witnessed, with my own eyes, that your special forces are among the very best in the world. And that gives me confidence, and that should also give the Afghan people confidence that your own Security Forces will be able and fully capable to take full responsibility for the security by the end of 2014.
HAMID KARZAI: It looks like someone has informed you of my inner discussions. I have been talking about this for a few months now. Whether 2014, with all the changes that are taking place with the complete return of international forces to their homes from Afghanistan, and the holding of the presidential election at the same time, whether that will be an agenda that we can handle at the same time.
This is a question that I've had, and I've raised it in my inner circle. It looks like you have someone there talking to you. (Laughs). It quite looks like that. I've been talking about this for some time now and this is quite a good consideration. If we cannot have all of that accomplished in 2014 because of the heavy agenda, can we bring either the transition and the return of the international forces to 2013 so we can have the other agenda fulfilled in 2014 with less to do, or should we allow the transition process to complete itself in 2014, but bring the presidential elections one year earlier to 2013?
This is something that I've been thinking about. I've had some consultations. There are favourables to both the ideas. I have not had a final decision yet, and it will not be soon, so... but I am thinking about this, and I will do what is good for this country in either case.
And it looks like I should make the circle smaller. (Laughs).
MODERATOR: Is that enough?
HAMID KARZAI: Yes. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you.