Joint press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai

  • 15 Mar. 2016 -
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  • Last updated 21-Mar-2016 10:07

(As delivered)

Thank you for once again welcoming me and my delegation here in Kabul and thank you also for your tireless efforts to promote the close partnership and cooperation between NATO and Afghanistan.

And I would also like to thank you for our personal friendship and the way we have been working together over many years.

We have just finished very excellent talks addressing the challenges we face together.

And I also met with Chief Executive, Dr. Abdullah, and other senior government officials and I would also like to thank them  for excellent talks earlier today.

Together, we assessed the security situation, reviewed the government’s reform efforts, and discussed NATO’s continuing support to Afghanistan.

2015 was as you said a difficult and tough year for the Afghan forces.

But despite significant challenges, they took full charge of security across the country.

Showing great courage and determination.

The Afghan forces are standing strong to protect the people of this country.

They are improving their capabilities.

They are stepping up air operations, including with new aircraft.

To give just one example, in 2015 the Afghan Air Force flew more than 20,000 missions – more than twice as many as the year before. This is just one example of how the Afghan forces are making progress.

But the Afghan forces do not stand alone.

NATO and our partners have been working side-by-side with them for over a decade.

At a great cost, we have made great progress together in the fight against terrorism.

We owe our deep gratitude to the brave men and women of our armed forces.

And we pay tribute to all those who have fallen in the line of duty.

Their sacrifice will not be forgotten.

Today, NATO continues to support the Afghan forces with training, advice and assistance through the Resolute Support mission.   

And we continue to provide financial support to the Afghan forces.

So that the Afghan forces can become sustainable in the long-term.

Protecting the Afghan people and suppressing terrorism.

So our commitment to Afghanistan is strong and enduring. And we are working closely together.

I am encouraged by the work of the National Unity Government.

But, as the President and I discussed, Afghanistan’s long-term success requires further reforms.

This means stronger security institutions, stable leadership positions, and effective mechanisms to root out corruption.

It means stepping up Afghan investment in the security forces.

And it also means ensuring that human rights, including for women and children, are fully respected.

The peace process is another key element in securing the country for the longer term.

I welcome recent signs of progress.

President Ghani, I thank you and Chief Executive Abdullah for your leadership.

Today, I invited you both to attend NATO’s Warsaw Summit in July.

And I am honoured that you both accepted my invitation.
This will be an opportunity to review our joint efforts, and to deepen the relationship between NATO and Afghanistan even more.

President Ghani, I look forward to working with you in the months and the years ahead. 

As you work to build a safer country, you have a strong friend and a strong partner in NATO.

Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much Your Excellency President and the NATO Secretary General. And now we have the questions and answer. Hamid Maya (sp?) from Shamshad (sp?) will ask question.

Q:  Thank you very much. I am Hamid Maya from Shamshad Television. My first question is from the distinguished guests. American officials have said that Afghanistan will face a failure in 2016 and it is said that this year for the Afghanistan National Defence Security Forces or for the Government of Afghanistan will be a tough year. Now if the fight is more tough and the situation will be more difficult is NATO ready to send combat forces to Afghanistan? Or do you make commitments in the air force related activities? My question to you respected President is, National Unity Government’s work, it’s two years almost to be completed of the work of National Unity Government, the surveys that have been done from surveys it seems that people are not happy. Do you accept that there have been problems, there are opportunities, of that work that you so far have done how much are you happy in the present day each point of view? If you could tell us sort of percentage, how much have you been able to achieve? One one questions, one one questions, thank you very much.

JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General):  You are right that 2015 was a difficult year and I expect also 2016 to be a difficult year. But at the same time what we saw in 2015 was that the Afghan Army, the Afghan Forces were able to be fully in charge of the security across the whole country. And they proved that they are capable, that they are professional and that they are able to respond to the threats which Taliban and other groups are posing on the security of the country. NATO will continue to support the Afghan Forces, we will do that through training, advice and assistance. We have ended our combat mission but we have decided to continue to support the Afghan Forces through partly the Resolute Support Mission, the training, assist and advice mission but also of course by continuing to provide financial support to the Afghan Army. And we have decided to continue to do that, we will make more decisions and make more decisions about the details when we are approaching our summit in Warsaw and we will be able then to tell more about the future of the Resolute Support Mission but let there be no doubt we will continue to stand by our partner Afghanistan. We will continue to support the Afghan Forces and we are impressed by the progress they have made and the courage they have shown when they took over the full responsibility for the security of the country.

ASHRAF GHANI AHMADZAI (Afghanistan President):  [Speaking with translator]. Thank you. Last year we were facing four transition process. Security transition, 16,972 Resolute Missions, 40,816 combat operations have been conducted last year. The test was not this, that the, the responsibilities taken by the Afghanistan Forces, it was constitutions, it was the test of the survival of the constitution of Afghanistan and the system of Afghanistan, it is up to you to judge about the survival of the Government of Afghanistan, you here today and the fact that had you brothers been not there who have sacrificed their lives, there will have been others in this hall today. You should judge. Secondly political transition. In the region the process that we have followed of developing a National Unity Government it has been unprecedented. Whether, should it have been that one will have had a street fight at different places rather of politics being the way and the solution of brotherhood. All the enemies of Afghanistan were thinking that the Afghanistan cannot be united and that there is the culture of division but we showed that no we have the culture of unity and it is possible. Number three, the economic transition. In 2014 41 % Afghan citizens were under the poverty line, in the worst situation more than 600,000. The international forces and their contracts, the fact all the demand was in their hand and they left Afghanistan but with that we still were able to increase the revenues to 22 %, like we could increase 22 % the revenues, another 22 % revenues. So the basis for the economic reform has been laid down. The biggest transition we are facing is we should bring about a change in the culture of the government, rather for the government considering itself above the people, no the government should be the servant of the people. All the provinces of Afghanistan have been equally looked at and the equality of the cabinet in the provinces has been developed. Am I happy with that? I will be happy when Afghanistan will be, will be Afghanistan will be prosperous, will be at peace and that every citizen of Afghanistan will count on the future in Afghanistan. So in this phases of transition it will be unprecedented for the President having faced so many challenges and so many problems, do we have a solution, do we have commitment, do we want to build our country and do we want to bring about a change in the region? Yes we do. Last year we had the commitment of the world for nine months but you see a great person is here standing alongside by me and we are talking about midterm issues, people have the right to criticise and it is our duty to provide prosperity. As you have noticed yesterday, the other day, continuously I am doing things in consultation with the people, to do it as per the demand of the people of Afghanistan and continue the governance. Thank you.

MODERATOR:  [Inaudible], Reuters.

Q:  Hi. Josh Smith from Reuters. Two parts of the same question. First for President Ghani, what would Afghanistan like to be seen done differently as far as the NATO mission here? Are there things that you are asking for that you would like to be provided that are not provided? Whether it’s troop levels or financial support, political backing, anything of that nature. And for the Secretary General, especially leading up to Warsaw and the fighting season and everything coming up. Are there things that Afghanistan concretely needs to do to, you know, benchmarks that need to be reached or concrete reforms that need to be taken to ensure that aid continues? Thank you.

JENS STOLTENBERG:  The important message from NATO is that Afghanistan has to continue to implement the reforms and the very encouraging message I have back with me, which I’m going to take back with me to Brussels leaving Kabul tomorrow is that the political leadership in Kabul is very focused on reforms. The importance of continuing to modernize the Afghan society, continuing to implement reforms and especially continuing to focus on the fight against corruption. Because that was a very clear message from President Ghani and from Chief Executive Abdullah, that it is important to deliver on reforms, fight corruption, modernize political institutions, electoral reform but also protecting human rights, especially the rights of women and children. I don’t think this is easy but I am very encouraged by the very strong commitment of the political leadership in Afghanistan and the single most important thing we would like to see is that Afghanistan continue to implement reforms. This is not only important for NATO but of course it’s important for Afghanistan, it, it makes Afghanistan a more healthier society. But at the same time the more reform we see the more we see that Afghanistan is able to fight corruption the easier it will be for me and other political leaders to mobilize the necessary political support in NATO parliaments, in NATO nations but also in partner nations to mobilize the troops we have to send into the Resolute Support Mission but not least the financial support which is so crucial for the strength of the Afghan Forces. So reform, continued implementation of reform is the key deliverable we would like to see by the Warsaw summit.

ASHRAF GHANI AHMADZAI:  [Speaking with Translator]. Thank you for your question. Partners work together toward goals and the strength of the partnership is measured by the alignment to which they achieve the outcomes. We do not have any public disagreement nor private disagreement. We are both in terms of the goal and in terms of the means, we work together to reinforce the partnership to deepen and broaden it. I take the opportunity first to define the issue, this is not a civil war context, this is a regional and global conflict where the interests of all NATO and non-NATO members are threatened. The noncombat role of NATO is firm, we operate within the framework of noncombat within that the degree of flexibility is welcome but the most important point is our commitment to reforms. I thank the hard paying taxpayer in the NATO and non-NATO countries who make this work possible. Finance, the financial commitments should not be taken lightly at a time when many countries compete for resources and for attention. NATO’s strong support and the Secretary General’s personal commitment is enormously welcome. At the Munich Security Conference the environment was one of doom and gloom but I argued then and I want to repeat my argument, there is no paralysis of will in NATO, the Secretary General is moving the organization and in terms of Afghanistan the strength of the partnership assures us that we can confront the situation and overcome the challenges and this is the key message that the visit of the Secretary General conveys to the Afghan public. And lastly the Afghan public in every single way is asking for reform, so reforms are not imposed upon us from outside, it is a response to the heart filled wishes of our public because the public sees corruption as great as a threat as terrorism. And I welcome the very strong partnership with NATO and with the person of the Secretary General and thank him again for his friendship.

MODERATOR:  Sharif Amidi, [inaudible].

Q:  Sharif Amidi from Tolo Television. Thank you very much, I’m Sharif Amidi from Tolo News. Your Excellency President, peace talk were supposed to have started in March, first week March, although the war season is going to start where would it, what happened with the peace talk? Are you happy with the quarterly lateral meetings? And the other thing, recently on, one question, one question, one question. Maybe you can direct your next question to his excellency Secretary General. Well I’d like to ask his Excellency Secretary General, Afghanistan like the previous years, if we may witness the fall of any of the provinces in the air and, will the NATO help Afghan Forces by air force or by the land forces if we may notice any fall of the province? God forbid.

JENS STOLTENBERG:  As I said NATO is here to continue to support the Afghan Forces but we will do that through noncombat mission. And we have seen a very impressive increase in the capabilities of the Afghan Forces over the last years and we saw in 2015 that the Afghan Forces are able to take full charge of the security across the whole country. What we will do is that we will help the Afghan Forces to build and to develop new capabilities. Like for instance the air force and that’s exactly an area where we now work with the Afghan Forces and as I mentioned they have doubled the number of missions with the new Afghan Air Forces over the last year. So this is an area where we see progress and where we see that the Afghan Armed Forces are able also to develop new capabilities like for instance air forces. In addition to the NATO mission the United States also has a counter terror presence in Afghanistan so altogether NATO and NATO allies are present in Afghanistan and will continue to support the Afghan Armed Forces and we will discuss with our Afghan partners towards the Warsaw summit how we can do this in the best possible way also in the future but based on the fact that this is going to remain a noncombat mission from the NATO side.

ASHRAF GHANI AHMADZAI:  [Speaking with translator]. Thank you very much for your question. The framework which we have concluded on the paper, this, it’s a big step that we have ahead of us. While we’re talking about the quadrilateral causes, causes of war, type of war and the fact that it is not an internal war, I mean this is, this was made clear. And secondly those who want peace and those who want, who want fight and war have been differentiated, so peace process will decide who want peace and who want fight and it has been agreed that those who have the message of, those who would not accept the message of peace and the peace process will be used force against and will be used any other things against. The commitment of all the people of Afghanistan and what all the people of Afghanistan want is the peace process, but along with peace process the important thing is that the peace has to be sustainable, it has to be durable. 50 % of peace agreements in five years have, have failed, they have not even lasted more than five years but of the 50 % of the other agreements that have succeeded how we can learn from and it will require strategic patience. As the President of Afghanistan my first duty is to implement the constitution and support the constitution and my other duty is the, the head charge of the Afghanistan Security Forces now. As the head of the Afghanistan National Security Forces and as the President of Afghanistan for the worst, be prepared for the worst scenario and make the plans for the best scenario. It is too early to say that the peace have not given the required result or as if we will show negligence for even one minute not to invest on our Afghanistan National Defence Security Forces. Had it been a civil war, an internal war the framework would have been much easier but its regional and international aspects it has, these are the aspects that have made it so very much complicated and there is need for more attention be paid to that. What does [inaudible] have to do with us? What does ISIL have to do with us? The regional terrorists networks, what are they to do with us? They are not Afghans to be able to bring them into the main framework of the solutions and at the same time the increasing number of Pakistani Talibans, so there is need for more attention and we hope that we will have progress.

MODERATOR:  Last question will be Mujib Mashal from New York Times.

Q:  Thank you Mujib Mashal from the New York Times. Secretary General my first question is to you. Last year was difficult but signs are the year ahead will be more difficult if not the same level. In terms, and at stake is not just the progress Afghanistan has made but also the success or failure of the NATO mission and what is becoming clear in the quadrilateral process is also what is needed for the success is the sincerity of Pakistan but also the pressure that Pakistan could exert at the issue of the sanctuaries. What is NATO willing to do differently that is hasn’t done previously to ensure its mission does not end in failure in Afghanistan? And Mr. President it’s more of a follow up to the peace talks question. You had laid out that the two winter months are crucial to testing out some mechanisms to achieve violence reduction. Are you disappointed in where we stand after two months have passed and or have you achieved sort of tangible achievements towards reduction in violence?

JENS STOLTENBERG:  I think when we measure the success of NATO presence in Afghanistan we have to take into account that Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world and Afghanistan is faced with many different challenges. NATO is here because we responded after the terrorist attacks 9/11 in 2001 and our main aim of our military presence in Afghanistan has been to prevent Afghanistan becoming again a safe haven for international terrorists. And together with Afghan Forces we have succeeded in preventing international terrorists of having a safe haven in Afghanistan. That doesn’t mean that we don’t find terrorist organizations in Afghanistan as the President just referred to, but they are confronted, they are, they are not having the privilege of living in a safe haven because they are confronted partly by the Afghan Forces which are becoming stronger and stronger, they are confronted by the U.S. counter terror mission or operations and of course the NATO presence even after we ended our combat mission we are supporting the Afghans, enabling them to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a safe haven for international terrorists. So when it comes to the main effort, the main purpose we have achieved a lot. Then we don’t believe that the future is going to be easy or without new challenges but that’s the reason why we have adopted a long term strategy and I think that in the long term it’s a much more sustainable approach that we enable the Afghans to keep their own country safe instead of having large number of combat troops coming from other countries trying to fight the war of Afghans in Afghanistan. So the idea of projecting stability without deploying large number of combat troops but projecting stability by training, advising the Afghans themselves, it’s much more sustainable and in the long run a much more viable answer to the challenges we see in Afghanistan. And that’s exactly what we are going to continue to do, to help the Afghans, because they have shown a lot of courage, they have shown a lot of commitment to exactly keep their country stable, to fight terrorism and the leadership of the Unity Government is a leadership which I very much welcome and then we will continue to support them partly with the Resolute Support Mission but perhaps even more important with continued financial support for the Afghan, Afghan Armed Forces. Then we will have of course assessments, we will analyze the challenges and always being open to how we can adjust but it’s going to be based on a noncombat mission, continuing to support them we will not go back to a combat operation.

ASHRAF GHANI AHMADZAI:  [Speaking with Translator]. Thank you. First, presence of international forces in combat role was an exception in our history. If one thing we know through our 5000 years it’s how to fight. It’s the enablers, it’s the partnership, it’s the support, train, advise and assist. Sustainability comes from political will, from national commitment, from commitment to the values enshrined in our constitution. No one can sustain a country unless the people in the leadership of that country have the will but in today’s complex global environment partnerships are essential because threats do not know boundaries. These are threats without passports. So our common understanding of the threats, our ability to trust each other, to work together and to be able to talk to each other and plan together is what is essential for success and that’s precisely what we have achieved. During last year the partnership, I want to repeat again, has really been strengthened, deepened and broadened. Please do understand the rest of the world competes for NATO’s attention, NATO today is not just facing external threats, it’s facing threats right on its border and despite that when NATO expresses and gives priority not just lip service to commitment to Afghanistan this is an enormous vote of confidence in our future and I want to thank you again personally for this. We have used the previous months to maximum effect Mr. Mashal. I can confidently say that in Nangarhar Daesh is on the run. It’s running for cover. I promise the people of Nungarhar that there will be no quarter given to Daesh and none has been given. And the recipe is very interesting, we’ve combined close air support with massive ground operations but particularly with peoples support. 750 people who had retired from our commander units in one day joined in front one of the crack divisions that now has Daesh on the run. In Baghlan we did not let the enemies of this country turn this beautiful province into a centre of [inaudible] operations. It’s been cleared. Place after place our forces have been fully working, 215 Army Corps, two new divisions have been framed in already. Attention to the new division in Kunduz has been consistent and now is moving to operational stage. Around Kabul, every single province around Kabul is safe, a series of operations that have changed the security environment. Day before yesterday I talked to eight governors in the north, every single one of them indicated a better security situation than three months ago. Yesterday I talked to four governors in the southwest, again, so it is not that we are without challenge but previously your comments that the year would be harder, last year in the first four months we had the initiative then in the six months, we were in defensive position, today we want to make sure that the armed forces that have come out of combat much hardened, much more impressive and much more coherently will be able to face the challenges but also again I want to repeat, combat is not a goal in itself, stability is, peace is, prosperity is. So we invite those states and non-state actors that are sustaining the conflict to see the logic of peace. Sponsoring non-state actors by states will boomerang as it has in the past. People need to learn that in this part of the world we need rules of the game where states come together against threats that will damage all of us. So we have a war to win and we are committed to winning it. Thank you.

MODERATOR:  Thank you very much your Excellency President, your Excellency Secretary General and the delegation from both the sides and respected journalists. With this we end our conference, thank you very much.