By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
April 14, 2008 - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today received the first honorary doctorate conferred by the U.S. Air Force in a ceremony in her home state of Alabama and delivered an acceptance speech expressing confidence in operations in Afghanistan. Rice appeared onstage in cap and gown at Air University on Maxwell Air Force Base to accept the honorary degree before providing an assessment of U.S. diplomatic and military operations in Afghanistan, comparing the current phase of nation-building there to post-World War II Europe.
"Challenges like the ones that we faced at the end of World War II and the ones that we face now can only be overcome with optimism about the power of our principles and our values," she told the audience. "The power of our principles is that it makes those things that one day seemed impossible seem, after, to have been inevitable."
Pledging victory in Afghanistan, Rice said America and its allies now have "a new strategic opportunity" there. Her confidence, she said, is based on successes and setbacks since U.S. operations began in 2001.
The secretary said their participation in free and open elections in post-Taliban Afghanistan show that Afghans, when given the choice, opt for democracy and modernity over "medieval despotism." She expressed faith in Afghan President Hamid Karzai, calling his government a "strong partner."
On Afghan security progress, Rice said NATO's International Security Assistance Force -- a multinational force that comprises troops from 40 countries -- is the lead supporter of Afghanistan's national forces. The Afghan National Army, she added, is now "at the forefront of many combat operations." Further, 26 provincial reconstruction teams are helping transform improved security into better governance, she said.
Thanks to the generosity of Americans, Congress has provided nearly $23 billion of assistance to Afghanistan, helping make it the fastest growing economy in central and south Asia, she said. In addition, U.S. allies have provided $18 billion.
Construction on critical infrastructure projects is flourishing, Rice said, including the "national ring road," which is now 75 percent complete. As a result of a revitalized school system, some 5 million Afghan children are receiving educations, including 1.5 million girls -- an unprecedented figure, as girls were banned from schools under Taliban rule.
Rice tempered her optimism as she described operational challenges. "At times, our many good programs have amounted to less than the sum of their parts. We have grappled with a lack of coherence among a broad coalition of international partners with disparate capabilities," she said in comments that echoed Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, who at times has urged NATO partners to increase their commitments to the cause.
"We must all understand and explain to our people that Afghanistan is not a peace-keeping operation," said Rice, referring to the leadership of allied NATO countries. "It is a hard counterinsurgency fight, and the stakes could not be higher."
The United States is in the process of deploying an additional 3,500 Marines to Afghanistan, said Rice, who praised France for pledging an additional battalion, Canada for extending its troops' deployment through 2011, and other allies for ramping up their efforts. The secretary, however, promised to continue pressing NATO allies to lift "caveats," or operational limitations, on their military forces, citing the importance of winning the mission.
"The United States and the entire free world have a vital interest in the victory of our Afghan partners over the Taliban and the consolidation and the empowerment of an effective democratic state," she said. "That country must never again become a haven for the kind of terrorists who attacked America on Sept. 11, who have attacked our friends and our allies repeatedly, and who seek to do us all greater harm."
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