Press conference

by US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Foreign Affairs Ministers, Brussels

  • 04 Dec. 2009 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 06 Dec. 2009 22:40

Press Conference by Hillary Rodham Clinton (US Secretary of State)

SECRETARY CLINTON: Today we had the chance to discuss the way forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan with all of our NATO allies and ISAF partners. The violent extremism that threatens the people and governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan and undermines the stability of the region also threatens us, the security of our friends, our allies, and our interests around the world. All of us whose shared future is at stake must therefore take responsibility for securing it.

On Tuesday, as you know, President Obama announced that the United States is sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, significantly increasing our civilian aid to the Afghan people and broadening our partnership with Pakistan. All of NATO and ISAF are standing with us in strong support of the President’s strategy. I want to thank those nations that have pledged additional troops, trainers, and civilian assistance in recent days and weeks. I welcome the Secretary General’s report today that at least 25 countries have announced that they will send more forces to the mission in 2010. They have offered around 7,000 new forces, and we’re still counting. Secretary General Rasmussen and the leadership and people of all of these countries deserve our gratitude.

This is a crucial test for NATO, which has been the greatest and most successful military alliance in history. The American people will always remember that after 9/11 NATO invoked Article 5 of its charter for the first time, affirming that the terrorist attacks planned in Afghanistan and perpetrated in the United States were attacks on every NATO member. We are keenly aware that the members of this alliance have paid a steep price in lives and treasure, and we honor the service and sacrifice of the brave troops who have fought alongside our own soldiers. And it is crucial that we remain firm in our resolve and see this mission through. We will work together to deny al-Qaida a safe haven, reverse the Taliban’s momentum and deny it the ability to overthrow the Afghan Government, and strengthen the capacity of the Afghans to take responsibility for their own security.

President Obama has outlined a timeframe for that transition to Afghan responsibility. As he said in his speech on Tuesday, the additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces, beginning in July 2011. This transition will enable us to begin a reduction of U.S. and international forces that will continue over time. Just as we have done in Iraq, we will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground.

Accomplishing our objectives will require us to combine the work of our military with an equally critical long-term civilian assistance program. We believe that integrating our military and civilian efforts is essential to our success. We have a sound strategy. We will deliver high-impact economic assistance and bolster Afghanistan’s agricultural sector, which is the traditional core of the Afghan economy. This will create jobs, reduce the funding the Taliban receives from poppy cultivation, and help draw insurgents off the battlefield. We will also help to strengthen institutions at every level of Afghan society so that there will be stability and security as our military forces begin to depart.

And I want to stress that, speaking for the United States, our civilian commitment will continue long after our combat forces leave. It should be clear to everyone that we will not repeat the mistakes of the past. The United States and our allies and partners have an enduring commitment to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the region.

Ultimately, we recognize that only the Afghan people can decide what kind of nation they want to build for themselves and their children. Only the Pakistani people can ensure their country’s democratic future. That is why we are working as partners in both countries: supporting Afghans as they build institutions, solidify the rule of law, and enhance their capacity to provide their own security; and supporting the Pakistanis as they defend their democracy, develop their economy, and respond to the kind of horrific attacks we saw on a mosque today.

Now, we’ve also discussed a number of other shared challenges during this NATO ministerial. On missile defense, our allies strongly expressed their support for the new American approach, and NATO officially noted the important role missile defense plays in the protection of our population, territory, and forces.

I also had the opportunity to discuss Iran, the upcoming climate change summit in Copenhagen, expanded partnerships with aspirating NATO members. I had a productive meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov focusing on continuing progress toward a post-START agreement.

This is a historic time in Europe with the 60th anniversary of NATO, the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, the naming of the first permanent president of the European Council. And today, I am more confident than ever that the Transatlantic Alliance which has anchored our peace and prosperity for so long will provide a strong foundation for our shared future.

Thank you, and I’d be glad to take your questions.

MODERATOR: We have time for two questions.


QUESTION: Thank you, Madame Secretary. I’m wondering if you could qualify that 7,000 troop number that you just mentioned – it seems open to interpretation – includes some troops that have already been in country since the election. Some are training forces, some will be leaving. So how robust of a pledge is this, given the need? And what else do you need that hasn’t been pledged? And what are your thoughts on the need for strengthening the international civilian effort and discussion about some kind of larger coordinating role? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first of all, the report from the Secretary General of the 7,000-plus troops are the troops that will be there in 2010 that would not have been there in 2010. These are not only new pledges of troops, but these are troops that were put in only for the election that we had expected to be leaving that will now, pursuant to our new strategy, stay and be part of implementing that new strategy. They are a mix of combat troops and trainers.

But one point I would make is that there is a very clear glide path between trainers and combat troops, because it has been our experience – and certainly, General McChrystal intends to apply this in Afghanistan – that training is not only about the beginning of military preparation, helping recruits learn the basics about their weapons, about formations and the like, but it also includes partnering with those troops, mentoring those troops, and going into combat with those troops. So there are some that are strictly just combat and just trainers, but there are others who will fall along the continuum as to the various functions that will need to be performed. So this is a significant commitment by our NATO ISAF partners on behalf of the new strategy that will be executed by General McChrystal going forward.

With respect to the civilian side, we know we’ve got to do a better job coordinating our international aid. There’s a great desire on the part of not only governments, but NGOs, to support the development of Afghanistan. And we’ve had a number of conversations with our Afghan partners about how best to utilize that assistance. And with our upcoming conference at the end of January, we hope by then to have worked out the mechanism for providing that coordination.

I am just extremely heartened by the level of positive response we’ve received. Certainly the commitments of troops and additional civilian assistance are a tangible representation of that. But I was also very touched by many of the comments that were made both publicly and privately by ministers from literally throughout the world, since it was not only NATO ministers who were here, about their commitment to the President’s strategy going forward and their willingness to continue to make the sacrifices that this strategy calls on all of us to have to do.

QUESTION: I’m Paul (inaudible) TV, the Netherlands. Madame Secretary, and contrary to all the pledges you’ve heard today, you know that the Dutch Government has decided to leave Afghanistan by next year, mid next year. How do you feel about it? Do you think that they should stay? Are you trying to convince them to stay longer? And if so, how successful are you so far?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I said when I was in The Hague at the conference, which the Dutch Government sponsored back in the spring, where we began to focus on the way forward in Afghanistan, we took a look at what we inherited. We didn’t like what we saw. And we began to retool what we thought was the best approach. And I have to say that much of what we have come up with is modeled on what the Dutch have done. The Dutch forces in Afghanistan came up with the model of the three Ds: defense, diplomacy, and development. They were ahead of, certainly – I’ll speak for the United States – they were ahead of us. The results they got demonstrated the effectiveness of their approach. So, of course, we would like to see the Dutch continue, but that’s clearly a decision for the government and the people of the Netherlands.

But I want to express very strongly my appreciation for what they have done, and the fact that they will continue to be with us for the next year just about. And they will continue to make a significant contribution, for which we’re grateful.

I think maybe take one or two more. If you’ll identify yourself, please.

QUESTION: Ricardo Martinez de Rituerto with El Pais from Spain. Madame Secretary, we all know very well what the United States is going to do in talking about the soldiers, 30,000, maybe 33,000. What is exactly what is expected from the rest of the international community? We have been talking about 7, but we are expecting 10, 12 thousand?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that what we see today with the commitments that have already been made is very encouraging. This is a difficult task we are undertaking together. We need both more numbers than we have just with our own troops, and we need more specific functions than are already present. And I think we’ve gone a very long way towards meeting those needs today.

And I appreciate very much the representation by the Spanish foreign minister in our meeting that Spain will be coming forth with a pledge after further consultation within your government, and we welcome that. Spain has been a very good partner on both the military and the civilian side, and we want to continue working with both Spanish military and civilian forces as we implement that strategy.

QUESTION: Katie (inaudible) with Georgian Public Broadcasting. Madame Secretary, how can you evaluate Georgia’s contribution in ISAF mission? And in – on your meetings today in NATO-Russia Council and Mr. Lavrov, did you raise the issue of Georgia’s territorial integrity? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think it is accurate – I’m not sure, but I think it is accurate to say that Georgia may be the largest per capita contributor to the NATO ISAF mission. Georgia announced today that they were going forward with the troops that are being trained and that they want to continue to be a very helpful partner in Afghanistan. And I just want to thank the government and people of Georgia for an extraordinary effort.

I did raise Georgia at the NATO-Russia Council. I made it very clear that the United States supported Georgia, that we would never recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, that we wish to see Russia work with the international community to bring about a peaceful resolution of the situation, that we applauded the creation of a monitoring system that would try to prevent actions from escalating. But we very much stand with the people of Georgia, and we’re very grateful for Georgia’s contributions to this important mission in Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Guldenay Sonumut from NTV Turkey. The United States of America have asked Turkey to contribute with some troops also in Afghanistan, but – and particularly combat troops, but apparently, Turkey refuses this. How do you evaluate this, bearing in mind that Prime Minister Erdogan will fly to Washington and discuss many, many other issues and, in particular, this? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we are very much looking forward to Prime Minister Erdogan’s visit on Monday. I am very grateful to Turkey. I have worked now with two foreign ministers since becoming Secretary of State, and I am very grateful for the cooperation and their partnership on many important matters.

With respect to Afghanistan, Turkey has been with us from the beginning. Turkey has performed a very important function. They are about, once again, to take over command for the Kabul area. We value highly the Turkish contribution, the professionalization of the Turkish military. And of course, we are always hopeful of getting even more assistance from Turkey because it is so important. But we also are grateful for what we have received. And we look forward to working with Turkey in a leadership position on a number of important issues that will be discussed when Prime Minister Erdogan visits President Obama on Monday.

Thank you all very much.