Roundtable Press Conference

Press Conference
Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan James B. Warlick
Kabul, Afghanistan
December 15, 2012

Ambassador Warlick: Just by way of background, and I know you all know this, but just to be clear. This starts from back last May with the Strategic Partnership Agreement that we concluded, and that provided a framework for cooperation, a framework for partnership in a number of areas. Security, of course, but also rule of law, governance, economic assistance. But that document was really just a framework and we want to put something behind it.

Arguably the most important aspect and I think one of the important aspects for the people of Afghanistan is security. We want to send a clear message, but we also share the goal with Afghanistan that we want to see a secure and stable country well beyond 2014.

The Strategic Partnership Agreement provided for the conclusion of a Bilateral Security Agreement within one year of the start of negotiations. Those negotiations started last month on November 15th here, and we hope to conclude a Bilateral Security Agreement within that one year. That is by November 15, 2013.

I hope we can do it more quickly than that.

This agreement I believe for a lot of reasons is important, but it certainly provides reassurance to the people of Afghanistan that there is a security partnership and an enduring security partnership.

I was here in October for my first visit. We were able to talk, it was my orientation visit to the country more than anything else, and an opportunity to travel to Herat and meet a lot of people and a chance just generally to talk about what the Bilateral Security Agreement would be. I came back for the November 15th round. I thought the talks went very well. We provided them with our first draft, not a complete text, but we did provide them with a text. We talked through a number of the issues and we continued that discussion yesterday.

We want to conclude an agreement that provides the legal authorities for U.S. forces to remain in Afghanistan, to operate in Afghanistan post-2014. And that’s what this agreement will do. Much like the Status of Forces Agreements that we have with many countries around the world. In fact as I’ve learned in this job, we have SOFAs with more than 100 countries. But we want this agreement to actually be more than just legal authorities. So we’re working on this as a defense cooperation agreement, as an agreement that goes beyond simply legal authorities and begins to provide a framework for an enduring, security partnership. If you like, we can talk about what all of that means.

We want this document to be a transparent one. The government of Afghanistan took the Strategic Partnership Agreement last May to its parliament. I think they plan to do the same thing with this, and we welcome that and we want the document to be a public one.

There are no secrets in it. We want it to be reassuring not only to the people of Afghanistan but reassuring to Afghanistan’s neighbors. I think that for all of Afghanistan’s neighbors a secure and stable Afghanistan is in their interest, is in the interest of the region.

Our presence in Afghanistan, as you well know, our mission is changing significantly post 2014. We will not have permanent facilities here. We will not be engaging in major combat operations. Our mission is a different one. That mission should be reassuring within Afghanistan and, as I say, to the neighbors.

Why don’t I stop there? I can certainly fill in any of the blanks for you. We can talk about any aspects of this that you like.

I would only add that an important part of this document still needs to be decided in Washington and at the White House. There is a whole discussion underway. Enduring presence, of course that’s not only about a troop presence, that’s about the entire footprint in Afghanistan post 2014. And the President, the decisions the President makes on our enduring presence in Afghanistan of course will need to be taken into account and reflected in the document that we’re negotiating. So there’s a part of this that will need to come only after those decisions are taken.

Media: Are the Afghans doing a draft as well?

Ambassador Warlick: We did a first draft, minus some issues. So we had a basis for discussion. We’ve been working through it.

A lot of the document is what you would see in a Status of Forces Agreement with most any other country in the world, and it does provide legal authorities. The issues shouldn’t come as any surprise for you. It’s taxes, customs, contractors, visas, a lot of the details -- although important details -- of the presence of U.S. forces.

Let me just say, this is a Bilateral Security Agreement, Status of Forces Agreement, and it deals with our U.S. forces and the civilian component of our forces. This is not U.S. government wide, just to be clear.

Media: U.S. government civilians accompanying the force?

Ambassador Warlick: Yes.

Media: Does that include contractors also?

Ambassador Warlick: Yes. Contractors and subcontractors that are supporting U.S. forces in Afghanistan would be included in this document. I just wanted to make clear that this is not a document that reflects the entire U.S. government presence. There are other agreements that deal with that presence.

Media: Embassy people?

Ambassador Warlick: That’s a separate issue.

Media: CIA, that’s separate?

Ambassador Warlick: That’s separate. All other agencies, presence of all other agencies is dealt with separately. We’re talking only about one component.

Media: Can you tell us, how is this process going, who are the interlocutors?

Ambassador Warlick: I’m here with an interagency delegation on my side. We have DoD represented, including the Joint Staff. My last visit I had someone from the National Security Staff. This is a process on the U.S. side that is not simply State Department. It reflects an interagency interest in the issue.

On the Afghan side, their lead negotiator is Ambassador Hakimi, their Ambassador to Washington. And likewise, they have an interagency group. We don’t have a fixed negotiating team, nor do they. I think as issues come up, particular individuals will be brought in because we are talking about some technical issues that require that kind of expertise.

Media: But the Ministry of Defense here, the roles and the missions of defense?

Ambassador Warlick: There have been representatives participating in the formal negotiations, but I’ve also been using this as an opportunity to orient myself to issues. So I’ve been going on meetings.

I have to say the negotiations so far have been very very collegial. It’s been in the spirit of partnership. I think both of our delegations, we know there will be issues that come up that we will need to work through, but we’ve agreed to do this collegially and as partners. And that’s, I think if the first two rounds are any judge, I think we can do that.

Media: Has the legal immunity issue for U.S. forces come up yet? You said last time --

Ambassador Warlick: We have discussed it with them. Although I think it’s an issue that will be decided at a later point. I’m not suggesting at the end. They know that we’ll need the authorities and protections for our forces. They’ve seen other Status of Forces Agreements. Ambassador Hakimi is certainly very aware of the issue of jurisdiction.

Let me make clear, too, the lexicon that we use on this is an important one. I don’t think we should be talking about immunity, because it’s not immunity. If someone has committed a crime, we want them held accountable for that crime. There’s no question of someone getting off. We have our Uniform Code of Military Justice ourselves. But in any case, we want to see if someone has committed a crime that they face justice. The question is where and how.

So the discussion will be one of jurisdiction, and this is not unique to Afghanistan. We discussed this issue of jurisdiction with 100 other countries where we have SOFAs. We need to come up with an agreement that does offer the kinds of protections that we need.

Media: Is it immunity from prosecution in Afghan courts?

Ambassador Warlick: We need to talk through that. I don’t want to presume what a final outcome is going to be. The question is one of jurisdiction and how we can see fair justice served. I think if you look at our SOFAs, each case is unique and we’ll have to take this. But I can assure you that we will require the protections necessary for our men and women in uniform and the civilian component. This is an important part of any SOFA and the Afghans understand that this is important to them.

In the end though, this is an agreement, and I think this is important, that we’re not just talking about legal authorities for U.S. forces. We’re talking about a Defense Cooperation Agreement that really is mutually beneficial. The Afghans need to accept that too. They know that there are certain requirements for our forces to be in this country. They also recognize that the continued presence of our forces, whatever the White House decision may be, is an important element for security and stability for the future.

We’re coming at this not looking at we must have these authorities. We’re looking at this as really a security partnership. One that we think will be welcomed. And my contact, and you have had more contact with Afghans certainly than I have, I find there is strong support in people that I talk to for continuing military presence. I don’t presume to suggest what that presence will be. Because U.S. and international ISAF, continuing ISAF presence, does provide some reassurance to them. I think that’s what this agreement can do. The Afghans that I’ve talked to welcome the conclusion of a security agreement.

Media: In a press conference the other day the President did say if I get this and this and this I’m more than happy to consider this jurisdiction issue. Did you hear him say that?

Ambassador Warlick: I did.

Media: What was your reaction to that?

Ambassador Warlick: Well some of the things he was -- I have to take a look at it again, but one of the things he said was the United States of America must respect the sovereignty of Afghanistan. I can assure you that one of the things this document does do, it fully respects the sovereignty of the country. And so it should.

We will commit in this document to respect the laws of Afghanistan.

We will be here after 2014 at the invitation and by mutual agreement of the Afghan government. I think that’s important. This is not an agreement that is somehow being demanded or imposed on them. This is one where both sides need to recognize that it’s mutually beneficial

Media: So you didn’t think his caveats were anything --

Ambassador Warlick: He made a point about sovereignty, one that I think he’s made in other contexts as well, one that we share. The President of the country should ensure that the laws of his country are respected and that his sovereignty is being respected.

Media: One thing that’s come up sort of at various times over the last several months is a feeling that the United States should have been focusing more on Pakistan and that that’s the origin of the problem. And a desire to have, during the stay here, to help out with threats that come from Pakistan. What is the United States feeling about being able to do that from here, whether that means drones or launching attacks or surveillance? Is that something that we’re prepared to discuss? Or is that something that --

Ambassador Warlick: This comes back to a sovereignty question too. We are concerned about the sovereignty of Afghanistan and we are concerned about any threats to the security of Afghanistan’s borders. And that is an issue that can be addressed in the Bilateral Security Agreement. We haven’t determined how that precisely would be addressed, but as I said, this is more than a Status of forces Agreement. We want to address concerns on the Afghan side, and this is certainly one of them.

This was an issue that was addressed in the Strategic Partnership Agreement as well. So coming back to it as part of our enduring security partnership is a very fair one.

Media: So you could conceive of doing something if it was at the invitation, so to speak, of the Afghan government, at their request in some fashion?

Ambassador Warlick: We would look right now at including language in this agreement that would address the issue of threats to the borders of Afghanistan. Precisely what that would be is to be determined. However, also, this is a document intended to be an enduring one and to continue into perpetuity. This is not an issue that fixes any immediate problem. This is one that provides the framework so that we can work through problems, whatever threats or perceived threats there may be.

Media: Is there any discussion in this about control or defense of Afghanistan’s airspace? Not just borders?

Ambassador Warlick: That comes back to the sovereignty question as well. There will be, if we’re going to respect the sovereignty of Afghanistan we’re going to respect the sovereignty of Afghanistan’s airspace.

As with any agreement, there needs to be operational procedures in place. If we are going to have forces in the country we will need to have arrangements for bringing them in and out, for example. So there will be a lot of details in this kind of agreement, whether it’s airspace or customs and contractors that will need to be handled at an operational or a procedural level. We wouldn’t have that in any detail. Certainly management of airspace would be one of the areas.

Media: Have you begun discussions on the current ground control stations for the drones and for special operations that are here now? Continuing the drones or --

Ambassador Warlick: I’m not the person to comment on drones. But I will talk about our mission here. We do see a three-fold mission here. This again, shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s one that was previewed in the Strategic Partnership Agreement. One area, and certainly one important area which will also include the international forces, is train, advise and assist. We’re moving from combat operations to a support mission. And we will have a very ambitious and aggressive program underway to train the ANSF and we envision that program continuing beyond 2014. As was made clear in Chicago, NATO also expects to continue its mission, its train, advise and assist mission beyond 2014.

The second area is a counterterrorism mission. There continues to be a mission to address al-Qaida and its remnants. Precisely how that mission will be defined and constituted, that will be a decision for our President to take, but it has been made clear, including during the visit of Secretary Panetta, that counterterrorism would continue to be an important mission for the United States and for our forces.

The third area, and this is almost self-explanatory, we need to protect our own forces that are here. We expect to have forces in the country that provide for security and also security for our civilian component here.

So those are, that broadly speaking is the mission. It will be a decision for the White House to take precisely what that mission is, how many people will be involved, all of the details.

Media: On reconciliation [the Afghan government] was involved in attempts to start negotiations with the Taliban. The government here [was in talks with the Taliban] and all of this [and other insurgent groups] reject any international presence after 2014 [inaudible]. Now, there’s now this road map it seems that the HPC is presenting, it’s meeting in France next week.

Do you see any of the moves towards reconciliation with the [inaudible] groups as [a conversation] that excludes the United States?

Ambassador Warlick: Let me say that we’re pleased to see that Afghans are talking to Afghans about peace and reconciliation. As our President and our Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State have said, there can’t be a military solution. It’s hard to see where the peace process is headed, but it’s an encouraging sign when there is a dialogue taking place.

That doesn’t in any way exclude an enduring security partnership and that’s what we’re talking about in the Bilateral Security Agreement. This agreement, just to be clear, does not specify troop numbers. This is a framework within which forces can operate.

Media: Is there one thing, would it specify facilities or installations?

Ambassador Warlick: First of all they’ll be Afghan facilities. Again, we come back to the sovereignty issue. And first of all we would need a decision from the White House on whether we will be requesting access to Afghanistan facilities and which ones. I think that would have to be included in any agreement.

Media: You mentioned signing the agreement will not specify a number of troops, but has that issue begun yet? Have those discussions begun yet? Has the White House given you parameters on --

Ambassador Warlick: The decision rests with the White House now, so we’ll await those decisions. But just to be clear, troop numbers, the discussion of troop numbers is not exclusive to a SOFA with Afghanistan. It’s our practice with SOFAs around the world. The reason for that is that we want an enduring document. This is a document that we hope will continue in perpetuity. So it doesn’t make sense really to specify troop numbers in this kind of a document. These documents don’t, SOFAs around the world don’t include discussions of troop numbers for that reason. But it will be an important issue for the Afghans and one that will be taken up in other channels.

Media: Could you give us some better understanding of what the assist part of train, advise and assist might consist of. When you talk to Afghan members of the military there are lots of things they would like the Americans to be doing, whether that’s evaluation of their injured soldiers or helping them fly planes or teaching, well the teaching would come under training more, but it’s more actual things they want us to be doing. And potentially intervening in areas where they do not yet have air capability. How much are you looking at that?

Ambassador Warlick: First of all, one part of the assist is clear and that comes out of the Tokyo Conference that there is a multi-year commitment by the international community to provide financial assistance so that the government of Afghanistan and the ANSF can stand on its own feet. So I can say with some assurance that the assist part is at least that.

But again, come back to the decisions that are pending in the White House. Precisely what is our mission post-2014? And in that regard, what kind of forces will we have on the ground and what kind of assistance can we provide. I can’t answer that until those decisions are taken at a higher level.

Media: Is there a delay with, they’re trying to figure out [who will be the next Secretary of State before making these decisions]?

Ambassador Warlick: I don’t know if that’s it, but I can tell you it’s a difficult decision. It’s not just coming up with a troop number. As I’ve seen in looking at this from Washington, all of these decisions are interrelated. It’s about our U.S. government footprint here, counternarcotics programs, economic assistance; our military missions are all in fact interrelated. So it’s difficult to pluck out one element of this such as a troop number in isolation until you take into account our larger footprint. And as you can imagine, there are a lot of equities in that and it’s not an easy decision. So how it will be presented to the President and the timeline for that, I can’t be sure.

Media: You said perpetuity that means there is no end year?

Ambassador Warlick: That’s all it means. There is not an end date. And we don’t anticipate an end date on this and neither do the Afghans at this point.

I shouldn’t make it sound like we expect to have a U.S. presence. That’s a decision that will need to be taken at the time by our President and our government, but we wanted a document that’s enduring and we want a living document too. We know this is not a document that we write today that is untouched for the next decade. We will need to come back to it, and we do that regularly with our SOFA agreements. We’ll need to come back to it and see where it needs to be updated.

I think that terminology is probably one I should change because it’s not like the constitution of the United States, written now and forever more. We expect it to be a document that provides a framework but can also be adapted to the circumstances as they change. And they will change.

Media: The SPA has a [inaudible] billets.

Ambassador Warlick: It does, but this is a document that is going to look more like our Status of Forces Agreements around the world. Those documents don’t have a termination date.

Voice: Thank you very much.