By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
May 12, 2010 - President Barack Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai today reaffirmed the shared U.S. and Afghan goals to defeat al-Qaida and to establish good governance and a growing economy in Afghanistan.
The two men spoke to the White House press corps after a meeting in the Oval Office this morning. The meeting is part of a four-day visit by Karzai and his ministers to the United States.
"Today, we are reaffirming our shared goal to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaida and its extremist allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future," Obama said. "We are reviewing the progress of our shared strategy and objectives: a military effort to reverse the Taliban's momentum and to strengthen Afghanistan's capacity to provide for their own security; a civilian effort to promote good governance and development; and regional cooperation, including with Pakistan, because our strategy has to succeed on both sides of the border."
One reason for the meeting is to assuage Afghan leaders' fears that the United States will not stay with the nation for the long run.
"As we pursue our shared strategy to defeat al-Qaida, I'm pleased that our two countries are working to broaden our strategic partnership over the long term," Obama said. "Even as we begin to transition security responsibility to Afghans over the next year, we will sustain a robust commitment in Afghanistan going forward."
Karzai thanked Obama for dedicating personnel and financial resources to his country.
"Yesterday, I had the honor of visiting Walter Reed Hospital, where I visited with the wounded who had returned from Afghanistan and from Iraq," Karzai said. "It was a very difficult moment for me, Mr. President, to meet with a young man – very, very young man – who had lost two arms and legs. It was heart-rending. And there were other wounded, too, just like I have seen in Afghanistan.
"I once again would like to convey to you and to the people of the United States our deep, heartfelt gratitude to the help that America has provided," Karzai said. "Afghanistan, because of that, is once again on the world map in a significantly important way. Our flag is flying all around the world. We are present in all the important occasions. We once again have a voice as the people of Afghanistan. And this would have not been possible without the sacrifices and the resources that the United States and our other allies have put in. Afghanistan is grateful. Afghanistan will definitely, with your help, succeed towards the future."
The two presidents also discussed the Afghan-American strategic partnership and future relations. They discussed issues dealing with the region and Afghanistan's difficulties and concerns with regard to capacity, institution building, the buildup of the Afghan security forces, the Afghan economy and issues of agriculture and energy. They also discussed development issues and U.S. contributions toward that effort.
Obama said there is no denying the progress that the Afghan people have made in recent years in education, in health care and economic development. "Nor, however, can we deny the very serious challenges still facing Afghanistan," he said. "After 30 years of war, Afghanistan still faces daily challenges in delivering basic services and security to its people, while confronting a brutal insurgency."
Whether Afghanistan succeeds will have consequences for the United States and the entire world, Obama said. "As we've seen in recent plots here in the United States," he said, "al-Qaida and its extremist allies continue to plot in the border regions between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a growing Taliban insurgency could mean an even larger safe haven for al-Qaida and its affiliates."
In December, Obama put a new U.S. strategy in place and said he would deploy 30,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. Half of those troops are in the country now, with the rest due in by the end of the summer.
"We're partnering with Afghan and coalition forces, and we've begun to reverse the momentum of the insurgency," Obama said. "We have taken the fight to the Taliban in Helmand province, pushed them out of their stronghold in Marja, and are working to give Afghans the opportunity to reclaim their communities."
Obama noted that coalition forces have taken extraordinary measures to avoid civilian casualties.
"I reiterated in my meeting with President Karzai that the United States will continue to work with our Afghan and international partners to do everything in our power to avoid actions that harm the Afghan people," Obama said. "After all, it's the Afghan people we are working to protect from the Taliban, which is responsible for the vast majority of innocent civilian deaths."
The U.S. president said training Afghan security forces continues, and both presidents expect the transfer of security responsibility to Afghan forces to begin in the summer of 2011.
Karzai committed to take additional steps to improve the lives of the Afghan people in concrete ways, especially with regard to the rule of law, agricultural production, economic growth and the delivery of basic services. "I pledged America's continued support for these efforts," Obama said.
Finally, Karzai briefed Obama on the upcoming peace jirga – or assembly - scheduled for May 29. The jirga will allow Afghans of all persuasions to discuss the way forward. Obama said the United States supports the jirga and also "supports the efforts of the Afghan government to open the door to Taliban who cut their ties to al-Qaida, abandon violence and accept the Afghan constitution, including respect for human rights."
Many difficult days may lie ahead in Afghanistan, Obama acknowledged, noting that the enemy is ruthless and determined. "But we go forward with confidence," he added, "because we have something that our adversaries do not. We have a commitment to seek a future of justice and peace and opportunity for the Afghan people."
Obama also thanked the men and women in uniform and their civilian compatriots for the extraordinary sacrifices they make every day, and said today's meeting should be a sign that the United States and Afghanistan are united in the effort.
"Our solidarity today sends an unmistakable message to those who would stand in the way of Afghanistan's progress: They may threaten and murder innocent people, but we will work to protect the Afghan people," he said. "They will try to destroy, but we will continue to help build Afghan capacity and allow Afghans to take responsibility for their country. They will try to drive us apart, but we will partner with the Afghan people for the long term toward a future of greater security, prosperity, justice and progress. And I'm absolutely convinced we will succeed."