Press conference

by Adbul Rahim Wardak, Defence Minister of Afghanistan after the meeting of NATO Ministers of Defence with non-NATO ISAF contributing nations

  • 06 Oct. 2011
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  • Last updated: 07 Oct. 2011 17:13

Abdul Rahim Wardak (Minister of Defence of Afghanistan)

Abdul Rahim Wardak (Defence Minister of Afghanistan): Ladies and gentlemen of the press, good afternoon. I am General Wardak, the Defence Minister of Afghanistan if you don't know me. You might have been already briefed by Secretary General and Secretary Panetta about what we have discussed today about Afghanistan in this ISAF forum of NATO meeting.

Actually, we are in a very critical juncture of our endeavour and we are in the process of transition, which I have today reaffirmed the unwavering determination of the Afghan Government about the process of transition that we will do everything possible to make it a reality. We consider it historic responsibility and so far as transition is concerned, the tranche one has already been successfully implemented and it has not run into some sort of obstacles. And we are about finalizing the tranche two, which will almost encompass close to the half of the Afghan population once it is implemented.

I was very pleased to hear that all the member nations of this greatest Alliance in the history have recommitted their support for Afghanistan during the process of transition and also after 2014. And that was something which was really needed because we firmly believe that our joint enemies were assuming, from the beginning, that sooner or later the international community will run out of patience and their interest will wane and they will leave Afghanistan like once they have left before at the end of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. And Afghanistan will be left isolated. That's why our joint enemies are continuing to prepare themselves for that eventuality.

We have discussed the security situation, that the actual security situation in Afghanistan is not as bad as it has been portrayed by the media. Regardless of 25 to 30 percent increase in troops deployed in Afghanistan, the security incidents are reduced to be compared with 2010. And only what's going on that the enemy cannot confront our forces, our joint forces, and they are focusing on IEDs, roadside bombs and these sensational and spectacular attacks and assassination of government officials and also national figures.

And that is why the media is also contributing, because it can make sensational headlines, which it is in contradiction to the actual security situation, and this approach by the enemy has created an unrealistic perception of insecurity.

One of the other issues which was discussed today was the sustainment of the Afghan National Security Forces after 2014, which was a major issue because at the moment it was quite obvious that the Afghans will not be able... the Afghan economy will not be able to support the Afghan National Security Forces in the foreseeable future. So there was a lot of emphasis that tell the Afghan economy... the economy can afford it, that there should be a period, a transitional period, which the member countries should contribute to sustain the NSF till the gap is bridged and Afghanistan becomes economically self-reliant.

We have also discussed our future partnerships with the US, UK and some other Allied countries, which we do think it will help in bringing security not only for Afghanistan, but to the region. And these partnerships are required because the nature of the threat is such that not only one nation can deal with this type of threat which recognizes no international boundaries and it needed concerted and coordinated efforts of community of nations.

We did discuss also reconciliation and reintegration. We all believe that there is a big potential for reintegration in the future also, so we will continue. We have already integrated close to 3,000 insurgents. And as far as reconciliation is concerned, I think our efforts will continue, but we will readjust it in light of the recent realities.

And also NATO is in the process of coming up with a strategic plan which will be mainly discussing the support of the international community to Afghanistan after 2014, which will be finalized during the Chicago Summit next year.

I think that's all what I wanted to say briefly, so I will be glad to take any questions from you. Please.

Q: German Television, ZDF: Can you give us an idea what the number of security forces are at the end of the year because the Americans will leave [inaudible] … trust the press reports, 10,000 Americans will leave at the end of the year.

Abdul Rahim Wardak: The first part of the question was regarding the number of the Afghan National Security Forces... The second one?

Q: 10,000 Americans will leave the country, will have left the country at the end of the year, and will the Security Forces in Afghanistan be able to refill this gap? Is that possible? And what are the plans till the Summit in Chicago in April next year?

Abdul Rahim Wardak: So actually at the moment, by the end of this month, October, based on the benchmark which was already designated for Afghan National Security Forces, that the number of the Afghan National Army will reach 171,600 and the Police will be 134 so those growth figures are on the target, so those targets will be met. That is not a problem.

And also between October to the first of January there will be further growth in the Afghan National Security Forces and in the meantime we don't think that the 10,000 withdrawal will have much effect because usually there will be some... I cannot discuss it because the US has to respond, but I do believe that mostly ... the majority of those troops, forces, will be ... that they will not have had a very active role. I mean, there might be combat service support, or combat support units.

Yes, please.

Q: Viola Gienger from Bloomberg News. Mr. Minister, I wanted to ask you two things. What would it take, you believe, to persuade Afghans that the US and other countries are, indeed, committed in a substantial significant way, beyond 2014 to your country? And what areas or when do you think will be in the second phase of handover to Afghan control?

Abdul Rahim Wardak: Actually, I think the partnerships which I have discussed, the enduring strategic partnerships, which are under discussions, will be something that it will convince the Afghan people that the international community will not repeat its performances of 1989, and also that they will continue their support.

In the meantime we do believe that what had happened in Afghanistan after 1989 and after that Afghanistan was left isolated by the international community, the consequences of that action later on I think have far-reaching effects on the global security, including the 9/11 and other terrorist activities which have taken place in Europe and other parts of the world.

So we have been repeatedly, since 2001, have been reassured that this time they will ... the international community will not allow that Afghanistan become a failed state in an ungoverned area where the terrorists then can hide, train, plan and operate from.

And about the second tranche, it has been not finalized, so it will be premature, but what is important in it is that the initial concept was that we might go with the easy places, where the security situation is better, but then I think we have changed that concept because we thought if we leave all the difficult places to a later date then that will be the time that the most of international forces will be out.

So now when the troops are more so, what we will do that we will include some of the difficult areas also in tranche two. So it will cover areas also in the north, in the south and also in the east of the country.

Yes, please.

Q: Minna Skau from Ritzau, the Danish News Agency. I just had the pleasure of visiting your country last week and I spoke to some of your countrymen, and a lot of people do fear that ISAF is leaving. Actually, I hear a lot of people who seem to think that ISAF is going to be gone by the end of 2014. Could you say a little bit more about what is it you need after January 1st, 2015? You say you're happy to hear the commitment, but what's the specifics of that?

Abdul Rahim Wardak: The specific commitment, which is going to be incorporated into these enduring strategic partnerships, will include all type of support: political support, economic support, social support and also militarily support.

So after that I think that training, equipping, and mentoring of the Afghan National Security Forces will continue. And also there will be support in other sectors as far as the government is concerned, or economic development and building of infrastructure.

We do believe strongly that there is no substitute for self-reliance. We have strived that the international community should help us so that we can be standing on our own feet and we are able to defend our country by ourselves. But it will take time to reach to that objective.

But the way ... I mentioned that the economic potential of the country in the future is quite promising. You might have already heard about these projected minerals and other natural resources of Afghanistan. And also we definitely feel there is a lot of room for improvement as far as the Afghan economy is concerned.

Yes, please.

Q: General, there have been some reports that the Taliban leadership actually perceives itself as winning the war, and that they're actually quite confident that the Taliban are doing well despite being heavily outnumbered and outgunned. How do you explain this?

Abdul Rahim Wardak: I think that will be a really wrong assumption. Just to say that the ISAF will be in a different role after 2014 doesn't mean that the Taliban are winning. And actually what is the measure of winning in a counter-insurgency environment is the support of the people.

In the last two years I think the situation is completely different than it was before. Actually, the Afghan Government and the international forces from the beginning, they did have the support of the people, but because we couldn't secure them they couldn't demonstrate their support for the government.

And in these operations which we have conducted in Helmand and also in Kandahar, which we ensure the permanent presence of security forces, the people were able, I mean, to demonstrate their support. And that's why that right now, with the help of the people, the number of the caches which we discover, compared to 2010, there is an improvement of almost 10,000 percent, because the people help us.

And also the amount of mines and IEDs which we discover and neutralize, with the help of people have increased. And in the meantime, I think there have been incidents in two, three places in Afghanistan that the people themselves went without any government or ISAF support. They have risen against the Taliban themselves.

So I don't think that that is a very wrong assumption by Taliban, and moreover I think their number is not such a thing... in such great numbers that you would think that they can take over the country. Actually, I mean, as far as this type of warfare is concerned, a very small group of people with simple weapons, some limited mobility and operational security, they can then secure a very wide area, so that question of winning the war by Taliban is not... is not predictable at all.

Q: I'm sorry, just as a follow-up, do you have any estimates on the current strength of the Taliban, of all the insurgents?

Abdul Rahim Wardak: I think it will be very difficult, I mean, to come up with correct figures, but the number of hardcore and radically-converted Talibans will be just in several thousands. And the reason which I mentioned for reintegration too will be successful, that all the people who are fighting us, they are not ideologically-converted terrorists. Different people have different reasons. One of the greatest reasons is poverty. And there is also other issues that some people are ... because of their tribal disputes, I think one side took sides on the right and the other one on left, and there are also personal animosities. And there are also groups which they would like to take advantage of the situation for their own benefit.

So most of these other categories are going to reintegrate, and then the actual numbers, which are really radically converted will be not too many. I will not put it more than 5,000.

Yes, please.

Q: Thank you so much. Ana Pisonero from the Spanish News Agency Europa Press. Two very quick questions. The first one is, on international combat troops after 2014, do you have a rough figure of how many you would like to keep in Afghanistan to do ... well, support missions, strategical missions that you might need? And my second question is concerning negotiations with the Taliban, you mentioned that there will be an adjustment of the strategy by the Afghan Government. Is this the idea of talking directly to Pakistan, or would you conceive the possibility of trying to negotiate directly with more higher-ranking officials within the Taliban? I’m thinking even with Mullah Omar or maybe that would help better if your … [inaudible] … leadership with leadership together. I don't know.

I understand that until now the negotiations with the Taliban were with lower key figures. I don't know if I'm mistaken. Thank you so much.

Abdul Rahim Wardak: You see the number which will be required will depend on the level at which the Afghan National Security Forces will develop and improve qualitatively and quantitatively till that time. And also it will depend on the type of enablers which are required to operate independently. So in the process of the (inaudible) some of these enablers are going to be provided and some, which we will be lacking, we will still need the support of (inaudible), so it will be really difficult at this moment to come up with numbers, but the general concept is that the NATO role will change to supporting and mentoring and the physical security will be taken by the Afghans themselves.

Yes, please.

Q: (Inaudible...).

Abdul Rahim Wardak: Yes, sorry I forgot about it. I think after all what we have tried to negotiate directly and I think my president had also mentioned that because of the influence, which our neighbouring country enjoys on Taliban it will be much more effective to talk to them directly. And of course, our effort with some individual to reconcile that will continue, but the main effort will be, as I mentioned, readjusted, and we will talk directly. Because in any country if there is so many people which are living without passport and visa, if you just tell them you're not wanted anymore that will have quite an impact on the reconciliation and also the return of those people. And agreeing what we ask them for to if they want to have some power in Afghanistan they can participate in the political process, which our constitution allows.

Yes, please.

Q: Kai Niklasch again from German Television. In which parts of your country are the Taliban still very strong? And is it necessary and indispensible that NATO and your troops get control over these regions of your country before NATO hands over the responsibility to your security forces, or would you think it doesn't matter, we just could live with some regions in Afghanistan where the Taliban are still very strong?

Abdul Rahim Wardak: Actually, the level of violence, I think it's quite obvious it has been higher always in south and south to east and recently in the east of the country. North and west of the country is always the lowest. They're just two to three percent of the total violence of the country. So the regions which will have more ... they will need more focused attention will be the south and east and southwest.

Q: Will it be necessary and indispensible to get control over all the parts in Afghanistan before NATO hands over the responsibility to your security forces, or would you say there will always be some spots where the Taliban will remain strong?

Abdul Rahim Wardak: Actually, to conduct clear operation in any part of Afghanistan it is a very easy process. But the question is, to hold it, hold means to have enough troops to have a presence at the local level like we have achieved in parts of Kandahar and also Helmand. If we can do that I think then there will be no problem at all. But it will directly depend on the number of forces available. That's why we call this counter-insurgency a very power intensive campaign.

Yes, please.

Q: A very quick follow-up because... it's a very quick follow-up because you just mentioned the local security... well, security at local levels. So I don't know if you can refresh for us the latest figures on the Afghan local police initiative? How many forces have been already trained within this initiative? I think that a while ago it was 5,000, but I don't want to make a mistake so I don't know.

Abdul Rahim Wardak: I think at the moment they are a little bit more than 5,000. I think I will not be exact, but somewhere around 7,000. But we still think that it has been very effective based on what we have collected of our intelligence from Taliban. They are already scared of them because they deny them the sanctuary among the people to hide. So if they cannot get into the communities then I think it will be very difficult for them to operate. So we will gradually see if we can increase the numbers to a higher number. I mean, somewhere between 20,000 to 30,000. Which will help the security forces.

Okay, thank you very much.