Joint press conference
with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani
Moderator: He will make opening remarks, followed by statement from Secretary General. Then we will take four questions from the press, as agreed by the journalists themselves. Your Excellency, President Ghani, the podium is yours for your opening remarks.
Ashraf Ghani [President of Afghanistan]: The Secretary General of NATO, General Scaparrotti, General Miller, all friends, colleagues, I'd like to welcome you all to Afghanistan. I am very happy to welcome you in Afghanistan. Secretary General Stoltenberg, you have been present in the two important meetings in Warsaw and Brussels regarding the national security forces of Afghanistan and you have been a very big support to Afghan people and Afghan security forces.
In Poland, in the NATO Summit, $15billion has been promised and it has been reconfirmed, with your hard work and support, that NATO's plan is to continue this until 2024, this support with the national security forces. As the Commander in Chief of Afghanistan forces, on behalf of all the leadership of the ANSF security forces, I would like to thank you and the NATO leadership.
Until 2014, there were sacrifices in Afghanistan who were the NATO soldiers. We express our condolences to all who lost their lives in Afghanistan, but when the national unity government took over, we started having our brave forces to take over of their own security, and they made sacrifices. Today, we can pass our message to the NATO nations and their families and their people that your soldiers are not on the frontline. Our people will defend the Afghanistan sovereignty and this land, and we hope that we have proved in real that the support for the Afghan people and the love for the Afghan people is not going to end, and our security forces have proved that by sacrifices that they have made. They have turned from a dependent force to a complete independent force that they can provide the security. We are good partners with NATO that are working together to bring peace and stability in Afghanistan.
The reason that you are here and your forces are here is because each of the NATO member nations' security interest, and NATO overall, have the concern of security. And the people of Afghanistan, on behalf of them, I would like to promise that we will do our best. And I would like to thank General Miller and Ambassador Zimmermann for their help and support, because every day we are taking a step forward. Our request is that, after 2014 to now, are the security forces, you know, be impartial and we need to do a good assessment. When we have more than 100,000 of the well- equipped, well-trained NATO security forces in Afghanistan. Now we have the Afghan forces doing their job, and if we make judgments these days, we need to judge that where we took the responsibility, in what condition and what kind of reforms we have brought to these forces. And once again, I would like to thank our security forces for all the sacrifices they have made for the sovereignty of this country. They have done a great job.
And again, I would like to thank for the support, for increasing the number of our commandos and for increasing the support for our air force. And now your mission, which is support, train, advise, assist, going very well and we really appreciate that. The reforms of our security forces are completely new and it has not happened in the past, especially the inherent law, corruption, fighting, which are the fundamental changes and one of the priorities of the Afghan national unity government.
We had the successful parliament election. Our security forces, they played a new role and that role was protecting the democracy of Afghanistan. They did not interfere in the election, but they did provide security for the Afghan people, so Afghan people can vote and they can support their favourite candidate, is a great honour. Of course, the independent election team should continue their work with complete transparency and they should announce the result of the election on time. As you know, the Afghan government has provided them with complete independency and we have some complaints against the IEC members itself, but this all needs to be considered as the lesson learned and they should announce to Afghan people that what are their future plans, because this is not only for the Afghan people, the importance, but also for our international community friends. It's important that they know what's going on and we again appreciate their support.
One point needs to be clear, that the presidential election will happen at the timeframe that was announced. If people were doubting in the past and if there were any doubts about the parliament election, they saw that well for the parliament election that the Afghan government has, and it should be a proof that we will have the same timeframe and process for the presidential election. Based on the free election, complete inclusive election, people will decide on their future leadership.
We are supporting the peace, an inclusive peace, that we should find a political solution at the end and this war that has been forced on us, it has different elements, but we should work on all those and especially regarding the international terrorism, which continuously they change their tactics and faces, we should fight them together and jointly. We believe that in this fight, which is right against wrong, that right will be victorious and people of Afghanistan do not want anything else, but only to live in peace and a stability, and in good regional and international partnership that they deserve.
Once again, I would like to welcome you, the friend of Afghanistan, the friend of the Afghan security forces, the friend of Dr. Abdullah and myself and the leadership of Afghanistan, and I would like to welcome you, Mr Secretary General, and we would like to hear from you now.
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Thank you so much, President Ghani.
It is really a great pleasure to meet you again and to be together with you here again in Kabul.
We have met many times but it’s always a particular pleasure to be here in Kabul and to meet with you and your ministers and your delegation and to discuss many different issues we all are addressing together. Then it’s also a great pleasure to be here today together with the Chairman of the Military Committee in NATO, Air Chief Marshal Peach and also SACEUR General Scaparrotti and Ambassador Zimmermann and General Miller. All these men are really committed to the NATO mission here in Afghanistan and that was also the clear message from the NATO Summit in July, that NATO will stay committed to our mission in Afghanistan and committed to provide support to the Afghans security forces and to the Afghan government.
President Ghani, your love for this country – and for the Afghan people – is really inspiring.
So I want to begin by thanking you and paying tribute to your leadership.
And by thanking you for our excellent meeting this afternoon.
I also want to congratulate you and the people of Afghanistan on the recent parliamentary elections.
Four million people voted, a third of whom were women.
In the face of Taliban threats, the Afghan people showed determination to stand and be counted – with resilience and courage.
Effective security is important to safeguard democracy.
And for the first time, the Afghan forces assumed full responsibility for security during the elections.
This is an important achievement.
I look forward to a smooth completion of the election process.
And to the presidential election in the spring of next year.
NATO is determined to see Afghanistan succeed. That’s why around 16,000 troops from 39 different countries serve in our Resolute Support Mission. Together, we train, advise and assist the Afghan forces as they work to make this country safer and more secure. And prevent it from ever again becoming a safe haven for international terrorism.
In our meeting today, I made clear that NATO’s support will continue.
At the NATO Summit we decided to sustain our presence until conditions indicate a change is appropriate.
And to extend financing to the Afghan forces through 2024.
Our support is improving the Afghan Special Forces and Air Forces in particular. There are now more than 20,000 Afghan Special Operations Forces. Among the very best in this region. And last year, the Afghan Air Force conducted more than 2,000 missions. And actually when I landed at the airport yesterday I saw the planes, the helicopters which actually demonstrate the strength of the Afghan Air Forces.
Today, President Ghani and I discussed the security situation in the country.
No-one underestimates the scale of the challenge. And the situation remains serious.
Afghan soldiers and police are on the front lines of this conflict. Many are killed or wounded every week. And I pay tribute to their bravery and loyalty. The insurgents have also killed scores of Afghan civilians. I call on the Taliban and other insurgent groups to stop killing their fellow Afghans. The use of suicide bombers in urban areas and the indiscriminate use of roadside bombs demonstrates a careless disregard for civilian lives. The Taliban must understand that continuing the fight is pointless and counterproductive. To be part of Afghanistan’s future, they must sit down at the negotiating table.
That is why Allies strongly welcomed President Ghani’s peace proposal. And the successful June ceasefire.
I also want to thank Chief Executive Abdullah for his commitment to these efforts. The potential for peace is greater now than it has been in many years. So we need an Afghan-led and an Afghan-owned peace process. And it must be inclusive.
We also count on the government to meet its commitments for good governance, the rule of law, fighting corruption, and protecting the rights of all – especially women. So I congratulate you on your efforts. And I call on all countries in the region to play a constructive role. And to deny safe haven to extremist groups.
President Ghani, thank you once again.
NATO stands with Afghanistan. Because stability in this country is important for your security, but also for our security.
We stand together in the fight against international terrorism.
Moderator: Thank you. I will take the questions now. Hamid Maya from Shamshad.
Question [Shamshad TV]: Thank you so much. Hamid Maya from Shamshad. First question is for the President. How did we release Mullah Baradar from Pakistan? How did he get released? Was it you or was it the Pakistan themselves that released him? And also, the second questions to Mr Secretary General: as you know, as you mentioned that the Afghan security forces are sacrificing a lot and they're dying every day, I remember that here you mentioned that: ‘the situation will get better and we'll continue our support’. How do you assess the current situation: that the Taliban are getting stronger or the ANSF is getting weaker? What's your assessment? Thank you.
Ashraf Ghani [President of Afghanistan]: Thank you. As far as the Mullah Baradar in Pakistan; when they wanted to talk about peace with previous President Karzai, it was taken as a negative act. We are ready that Mullah Baradar - or any other Taliban in the prison - to welcome him back in Afghanistan and have him as part of this process. This is one step, but it's a very small step. The main point is that Pakistan should support the peace process, should prevent the fighting and help us in three main points fundamentally: one, this fighting that has continued for years should stop and we should talk government-to-government and speak, and we should keep this relation, this is an international law. Second, we should have a positive support and a regional cooperation in which two independent countries should talk and cooperate in economical partnership. And third, they should fight against and how can be a partner regarding the insurgency and enemy, because this insurgency and these terrorists do not have borders and limits. Therefore, we should destroy these networks that are present in Pakistan.
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Every casualty is a tragedy and that’s the reason why we are so focused on reducing the number of casualties. I think also every casualty reminds us of that this is a difficult situation. We see violence, we see instability, and we do not underestimate the challenges we all face in Afghanistan. But we also have to understand that one of the reasons why the number of casualties among the Afghan security forces has increased is of course that the Afghan security forces is now in full charge of security in their own country. They actually do the job that more than 100,000 NATO soldiers did before. We have gone from more than 100,000 down to 16,000. And of course that has an impact for the Afghan security forces, because they are now on the frontline, they are now responsible for the security in their own country. NATO has changed the scale and the character of our operation, from a combat operation to a train and assist and advise operation. But we made important decisions over the last months; we have decided to scale up, so we have just increased the number of troops from around 13,000 to around 16,000, so we provide more trainers, more advice, more assistance. The US has also increased their presence outside the NATO mission, so all together we provide more trainers, more enablers, more support than we did before. And of course, one of the main reasons why we do this is to help the Afghan security forces to reduce the number of casualties.
So, we don’t underestimate the challenges, but we commend the Afghan security forces for their professionalism, for their courage and for their determination, and we also commend them for the progress they are making in the fight against insurgent groups, against Taliban, but also when it comes to the progress we see: building special operation forces, building an air force, and also for instance providing security for the elections. So yes, there are many problems, but there are also great achievements, which we commend the Afghan security forces for.
Moderator: Thank you. James from Reuters.
Question [Reuters]: Thank you very much. Yeah, James Mackenzie from Reuters. My question's about the peace process. Everyone says that they want to see an Afghan-owned and Afghan-led peace process. So far we've seen meetings between Ambassador Khalilzad and the Taliban, there's a meeting in Russia coming up. Are you satisfied with the level of Afghan government involvement in the process so far and how do you see it going forward? Thank you.
Ashraf Ghani [President of Afghanistan]: Directed towards me?
Question [Reuters]: Yes.
Ashraf Ghani [President of Afghanistan]: Yes, thank you. This government has owned the peace, it's leading them. Don’t forget, in February, it was I who announced to the world the offer of unconditional talks. The ceasefire was made in request to the uniform fatwa of 2906 of our ulema, the decision was made within four days and implemented within three days, and the success was remarkable. And the changes, a result of that. The efforts of Ambassador Khalilzad are supportive. The distinction is that the United States has always talked, but not negotiated. That principle has been reiterated and reaffirmed. We are thinking through. I have just ordered last night, all the governors to select, to ask on the basis of consultation, women's groups, ulema, university professors and others. I'm going to form an advisory council that would remain to advise the government, inclusive of all 34 provinces, inclusive of all the … [inaudible] of Afghan society, so we can prepare for real discussions. We hope that the day of beginning formal negotiations would not be far, but it's not negotiation, it's the results; the result has to be an inclusive Afghan peace that all Afghans buy into. And again, this will be an inclusive process. We support the engagement of our international colleagues. The model of cooperation, regionally, is what happens in respect to that, where the conference is jointly co-chaired and we move forward on that basis. Thank you.
Moderator: Thank you. Sharif Amery, TOLO News.
Question [TOLO News]: Thank you very much, Sharif Amery from TOLO News. Mr President, you talked about the election. Do you accept that some of your people had a kind of recession with the national unity or do you think that the CE position for the future government will be needed? Also, it says that Afghanistan is working on the consultive board for the negotiations … [break in audio] in Afghanistan peace process.
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Well, NATO's role is that we strongly support an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process and therefore we strongly welcome the ceasefire we saw this summer. It was a short ceasefire, but it was at least a ceasefire and the first we have seen in this conflict. So, it's an important first step in the right direction. NATO is not directly part of the negotiations, but what we are is that we provide support to the Afghan government, not least with our train, assist and advise mission, to create the conditions for a political, peaceful solution. Because I think we all have to understand that there is a link between what's going on on the battlefield and what we may achieve around the negotiating table. And we need strong, we need professional, we need well-trained, well-equipped Afghan forces, to send a very clear message to all the insurgence groups, and to Taliban, that they will achieve much more sitting down around the negotiating table than they will be able to achieve on the battlefield. And to provide that context or foundation for a negotiated peace deal, we will continue to support the Afghan government. NATO was present at the peace meeting in Kabul some months ago and we will still come when we are invited, but our main role is to assist, train and advise the Afghan security forces.
Ashraf Ghani [President of Afghanistan]: Our society is a society that was built based on consultation. Government of unity has proved that all the major affairs of Afghanistan that consist of opportunities has been done through consultants. Therefore, this will continue. Majority of our consultancy refers to the… to today, as we proved on the parliament election that we have a complete transparent process for the parliament election, and at the same time the consultation on peace and future steps for the Geneva, as we have it in front of us, Conference, this will be one of the major points, you know, is the peace in Afghanistan. The election, the presidential election is another major point which we still have time for that when the process starts, and in that timeframe we'll announce our plans.
Question [BBC Dari/Pashtoo Service]: [Inaudible owing to Technical/audio issues.]
Report says Afghan government has lost more districts?
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Well, first of all, I think we all have stated clearly all the time that it's very hard to predict exactly how an armed conflict develops, that’s anyway the nature of a conflict, like the conflict we see going on in Afghanistan. Second, we have decided to increase our presence and we have just done that with more trainers, more advisers, providing more train, assist and advise to training, assistance and advice to the Afghan security forces. And on top of that, the US has also increased their presence. But again, we decided as late as in July that our presence here is conditions based, it's not a timetable, it's not possible to say exactly when we can reduce our presence. But we clearly stated that we will stay here as long as it is required and we will only leave when we see that the conditions on the ground makes it possible to leave or to reduce our presence. So, I think we cannot provide you with an exact timetable, telling when different things will happen, because we are faced with a difficult security environment in Afghanistan. But my message to political leaders back in Europe and United States, to NATO Allies and partners, is that we are here in Afghanistan of course to help Afghanistan, but we are also in Afghanistan to help ourselves. We are here to fight international terrorism and we have seen before how damaging and how dangerous and how dangerous that can be for our own societies. We saw that 9/11 in the United States, but we have also seen terrorist attacks organised from outside Europe, outside NATO Allied countries, so we are here to prevent Afghanistan ever again becoming a safe haven for international terrorists, because that is in our own interests. So, there is no way I can go back to Europe or to the United States, NATO Allies and partners, and say that it didn’t exactly go as we expected, so we now we should leave. That would be the total wrong approach. We are here because it is in our interests to be here, to increase our own security.
Moderator: Thank you. The press briefing is concluded here. Thank you everyone for coming and for today's questions. And please be seated while the President and Secretary General leave the room. Thank you.