Senior State Department Official To Preview the London Conference on Afghanistan

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
Brussels, Belgium
December 3, 2014


MODERATOR: Here are traveling reporters, most of whom you know.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay.

MODERATOR: And we thought what might be helpful to these guys is for you just to start by talking about what the goals and objectives are for the conference tomorrow. And then, of course, there’s lots going on in Afghanistan so I suspect they may have some questions. And this – for the purposes of the transcript, this is for attribution to a senior State Department official, and I’ll help navigate the questions on this end, [Senior State Department Official], so you know who’s asking them.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure, yeah. And sorry I can’t be there in person. I’m actually going to hop off in about 20, 25 minutes to grab a train to go to London, but I’ll be there until the return Friday morning. So once you all are there, if anyone wants to talk in further detail or on the plane back or anything else, I’m certainly available.

I’d just say a few minutes in opening on London. We’re greatly looking forward to this conference because it comes at a pretty critical moment in terms of what’s happening in Afghanistan, both in terms of the drawdown but actually far more importantly the initial first few months of the government of national unity having taken very critical steps already to promote the rule of law, to address corruption issues, and to improve Afghanistan’s relations with its neighboring countries and the international community.

And so this conference is actually the first real opportunity for President Ghani and CEO Abdullah to outline their vision for Afghanistan’s economic, social, and political future. It gives them the platform to lay that out to the international community, to all those that have supported it for these past dozen years; and then in response, that we as the international community can commit to continued support for their reform agenda in order to advance our shared interests in a stable and sustainable Afghanistan.

So it’s not a donors conference. There will be a recommitment by the U.S. and other international partners to the commitments from Tokyo two years ago, but it’s an ability to help reinforce that we remain sustained partners for Afghanistan, and that over the coming months we’ll continue to work closely with the Afghan Government to ensure that our assistance funds are used as effectively as possible to support this reform agenda part of this will be done at a more technical level as we refresh what was called in Tokyo the TMAF, the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework. And this will help to continue to address Afghan priorities from anti-corruption to domestic revenue generation, but to do it in this concept of mutual accountability in very tangible ways.

So the international community wanted to ensure that it had this opportunity to recognize many of the gains that have been made in Afghanistan, to demonstrate their continued support. This is kind of in a line; it’s part of the continuum of significant international conferences on Afghanistan, including just a few weeks ago the Heart of Asia conference which China hosted in Beijing and which was Ghani’s first official trip as president. And then the Norwegians hosted a conference last weekend in Oslo to promote the role of women in Afghanistan and the gains that have been made there. But we want to take every opportunity to accelerate this process of Afghan self-reliance and ensure that the gains that have been made are sustainable and our national interests are protected.

The very last thing, and because I just touched on China and I said this when I was there as well, but this is a real kind of moment of opportunity, I think, for the region and something that this new Afghan Government, both President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah have really seized on in terms of engagement with the rest of the region and making use of this window of opportunity. And so his initial trips to China, to Saudi Arabia, to SAARC, and most significantly to Pakistan a few weeks, and trying to make use of this – of the fact that not only is there a new government, this historic democratic transition of power in Afghanistan, but obviously, the first historic democratic transition of power in Pakistan just 18 months agreement. And so seeing where those two neighbors can move in terms of economic and trade ties, in terms of the security relationship, and perhaps most importantly for the long term, on some sort of reconciliation issue that also addresses the issue of having no safe havens on either side of the border.

So there’s a lot to focus on right now, and it’s a great opportunity for the international community to come together in this way. But let me leave it at that and turn it over to questions.

MODERATOR: Okay. Questions?

QUESTION: How much – you said --

MODERATOR: It’s Lara Jakes from AP, just so you know, [Senior State Department Official].

QUESTION: Yeah, sorry. You had said that this is kind of a re-upping of U.S. and Tokyo prior committed funds. How much are we talking about here?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, we didn’t – we actually never gave a specific number at Tokyo. The Japanese announced at that point that it was $16 billion over four fiscal years. I think it was 12, 13, 14, 15 that was committed, which met at that point what the World Bank’s needs were for what the fiscal gap would be. So the Afghans haven’t sought anything additional from that. It’s not a donors conference, but there will be a recommitment by partners to what was pledged at Tokyo. And whether the UK ultimately decides to roll it into a number or not, I’m not sure. I think they’re still working through that at this point. But there won’t be an announcement of any kind of new numbers.

QUESTION: Can I just follow up on that?

MODERATOR: It’s Michael.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.

QUESTION: How much of what was pledged in Tokyo, how much has actually been provided?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, we’ve – we’re pretty transparent with kind of our appropriations process given Congress, and we’ve – Congress has appropriated extremely significant civilian assistance to Afghanistan since 2012. We have fully met our Tokyo commitments. We expect to continue to do so. And though we never can talk about future funding, I’d say that based on existing appropriations we plan to deliver continued significant amounts of assistance to Afghanistan beyond 2015.

QUESTION: And [Senior State Department Official] --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So funding is already committed to see through critical investments in infrastructure and capacity building and education, health, economic development. So I think the U.S. position and what our commitments have been have --

QUESTION: Can I just ask you – the point is the international community has a tendency to pledge things but not always deliver them. So if a large sum was pledged in Tokyo, how much has actually been provided?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s exactly why – that is exactly why what the Afghans wanted and would seem by far the most reasonable was to recommit exactly – and in some instances, slightly more. I know the EU seven-year budget which was just announced is actually in excess of what their last seven-year budget was. But what they wanted to hear was that in this age of competing demands for limited resources that the international community was going to continue to honor those pledges and commitments and stand by them. And that’s exactly what this gives everyone the opportunity to do.

QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official], can I just, just one last time --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.

QUESTION: Not all the money that was promised in Tokyo was ever all provided. How much remains to be provided by the international community? There’s a tendency to promise things but not actually provide all of them in a timely way. So of the sum that was promised in Tokyo, how much has been provided, how much remains to be provided? You’re recommitting; you’re trying to get them to give what they actually promised to give in Tokyo. How much remains to be provided?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Right. But it’s not – it’s not that facile because it was a commitment – it was – the commitment went to only a topline number that wasn’t broken down by year over a period of time that hasn’t concluded yet. And so we can say what we’ve expended and what our appropriations process has been, and other countries will say that they are doing the same; but since it wasn’t divided up country by country, there’s not something to gauge it against. It’s just – it’s that it will cover – that there’s an enormous amount of money that’s still flowing to Afghanistan that will continue to address many of their key needs, but it will also do so in alignment with Afghan vision of where they need to go and with the commitment of the reform process.

QUESTION: And [Senior State Department Official], do I misunderstand – maybe I misunderstand this. Are you saying you have not broken down how much of that commitment is American money?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: We did not announce in Tokyo what the commitment was of U.S. funding. The only number that was announced in Tokyo was that it was $16 billion over four years. We did not say how much the U.S. was, although it was a little bit less than half of that.

For London, we still haven’t – we’re still kind of working through with OMB whether we can give a number as to how much we’ve either done to date or will specifically give, but it will be – I think I may be able to give more clarity by the time of the conference in terms of what our number has been.

QUESTION: And can you explain why you are not able to say how much money of that, at least for American funds?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I mean look, again, it’s no secret given our appropriations process. It’s very – I mean, it’s extremely transparent how much our requests have been, how much has been authorized, what the final appropriations have been. And so the commitments for that, it would be at or near levels of the past decade was the terminology used from – from Tokyo. So the desire was to have the political commitment on these financial contributions but also with the recognition that foreign assistance for Afghanistan is and will continue to decline over time. And that’s natural , and Ghani has made clear his own intention to reduce Afghanistan’s reliance on external civilian aid but that it doesn’t – it’s not going to happen precipitously and that it has to be a kind of gradual and responsible trajectory.

So neither the Afghans or the international community in Tokyo want to be locked into kind of the specific numbers, but it was – but each country kind of made their commitments and the Japanese then ultimately put out that topline figure in closely working this with the Afghans.

And the bigger issue about Tokyo was less the number than this idea of mutual accountability, that there would be things that the Afghans would do, that part of our funding would be incentive funding based on what they’ve done, and that in conjunction with where Afghanistan was leading that the international community would seek to facilitate and support it as certain things were done. I mean, that was the kind of the bigger headline of Tokyo on this mutual accountability concept, as opposed to any sort of specific pledging number. It wasn’t meant to be a donors conference even then.

MODERATOR: But for people’s background, I think if we talk to your team, [Senior State Department Official], we can see what’s publicly available in terms of what funding we’ve appropriated, right?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure. I mean, anything that’s – that Congress has appropriated, I mean, we can demonstrate.

MODERATOR: Over the last couple years. All right. Well, we’ll follow up on that, too.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, yeah.

QUESTION: See, this is – [Senior State Department Official], this is Lara Jakes again. I mean, you just said something really interesting that part of the funding would be based on what they’ve done, which is why I think we’re trying to get a sense of how much money remains, because it’ll be a kind of a bellwether of whether or not they have lived up to their commitments, which would indicate – if there was more money going out, that would indicate that they are, in fact, living up to their commitments.

So can you – if you can’t talk about numbers or that’s something that’s not readily available, can you talk a little more broadly about whether or not they have taken the actions that the international community wanted Afghanistan to take and where shortcomings might still be apparent?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. I’m just trying to go through my notes quickly while you – about the last question. I mean, I think we – just back to the specific numbers, we’ll try to pull for you the last few fiscal years requests, authorizations, appropriations. But I think we did say that of that 16 billion it was near 50 percent of the total. There was nothing further from Tokyo at that point.

In terms of the --

QUESTION: Wait a minute. What --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: -- the mutual accountability --

MODERATOR: Wait, [Senior State Department Official], hold on. I think Lara had one question about that.

QUESTION: What do you mean by that? We’re all kind of – we don’t --

QUESTION: Fifty percent?

QUESTION: What’s the 50 percent?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: It was – so of the $16 billion that was – that the Tokyo – that the Japanese put out in Tokyo that would be the international community commitment over four years, that the U.S. assistance levels accounted for near – almost 50 percent of that total.

QUESTION: Five-zero percent?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So roughly – so I think between $7 and $8 billion.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Which is – again, it’s at or near levels of the past decade was roughly in the $1.5 to $2 billion appropriated per year. So over four years that’s where you would come out just looking at our appropriations.

QUESTION: Got it. Thank you. Go ahead.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: So on the mutual accountability, this was a kind of multi – there are kind of five key facets to this. So fighting corruption was one aspect of it and our assistance wasn’t specifically predicated on it, but we did put a larger percentage of our assistance budget through these incentive mechanisms that linked disbursement to progress on specific reforms, including action on corruption. And as a result of that, we did hold back some amount of funding. I’ll have to check on the exact amount, but I think it was in the 40 to 50 million range because they didn’t meet specific benchmarks.

But I think the more important issue is what is this new government’s vision and plan on fighting corruption and what will it continue to do on this. I mean, it’s something that both candidates ran on. They both signed anti-corruption pledges during the course of the campaign. They – it was a kind of fundamental area of convergence when it decided to join the – join in a unity government. And they’ve taken some initial steps in the last two months, including reopening the Kabul Bank investigation and then examining ministries for unqualified civil servants and a range of other issues.

So again, I mean, it’s only been in existence for two months. This is their opportunity to lay out what their reform agenda exactly is and for the international community to figure out how it calibrates assistance based on those reforms actually being made.

QUESTION: Okay. So those are things that they are going – I’m sorry if you said this earlier. They will lay out their plan and – at this conference and the international community will walk away from London with some kind of way to calibrate that? Is that accurate?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: At a political level. I mean, again, the technical work on all that will have to still take place over the next six months or so. So yes, the concept will be that they will lay out their vision. There is a document that the Afghans are working on that lays out in – it’s not in extreme granularity but it’s also more specific than just a kind of high-level political view. They’ll kind of debut this and lay this out, and the international community will say kind of broadly that based on this reform agenda and the continued plans on this, we will – we are recommitting to our Tokyo pledges.

And then over the course of the next six months or so, this – that specific document on mutual accountability, the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework , the TMAF, will be what the Afghans are terming “refreshed,” working with officials from all the kind of key partners on what the benchmarks may be and how this will actually work. And that will culminate in a senior officials meeting probably five or six months from now. But that will take some time and it will be based on what the broad agenda actually is at the outset.

The initial idea is that this conference would take place and be able to do all that at once, but given the election delays and given the delay in forming the government, we’re just not at a position where we can delve into the technical details about how exactly the assistance is going to be calibrated to which particular reforms because we don’t have them yet. So this is going to be the kind of political level conceptual piece of this which will then be executed in the coming months on the technical level.

QUESTION: Can you – just one more from me on this. Can you – you said about $40 or $50 million have been held back, probably during the Karzai government, because it didn’t meet specific benchmarks. Can you just give me an idea of what specific benchmarks, just a couple of examples that they didn’t meet?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Let me – we’ve got – it’s all actually very detailed. It’s all in the Tokyo Mutual Accountability Framework, so let me – and different countries had different triggers for various things. So let me have our team work on it and I’ll send you guys something as soon as I get to London.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: And why not call it a donors conference? It sounds like a donors conference to me.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, because I mean, a donors conference would be going around the room and each country saying we’re giving X amount for Y years for Z projects, and it’s not going to be new money announced and it’s not going to have that degree of specificity.

QUESTION: Hi, this is Sangwon from Bloomberg. Can you talk about how the recent wave of Taliban attacks, how that factors into the new government talking about their vision and plan for reforms, et cetera?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah. The reforms are primarily on the economic and governance side. I mean, obviously, the security situation is something that is front and center on the intention of the new government and the international community, and we’re working with our partners and allies and with Afghanistan’s leaders on how to improve security throughout the country. Obviously, it was a key issue at the NATO meetings over the last few days and is a key part of the new Resolute Support mission coming out in – as of January 1st.

So I’m not sure what Ghani and Abdullah will say on the security situation in particular at this conference. We’ll have to see. But I’m not aware of how it’s necessarily going to be wrapped into the kind of economic agenda.

QUESTION: And lastly, I mean, how do you see the security situation on the ground? What are your – how do – what are your – I don’t know – forecasts or something, or can you elaborate a little bit?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I mean, I don’t have much to add there. I mean, obviously, there’s been an uptick of incidents over the last few weeks, but something that we’re working very closely with the Afghans on. Both President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah have made kind of revitalizing the security forces a centerpiece of what they’ve done over the last few months. They’ve visited a number of ANSF outposts. They’ve done a number of things. The morale within ANSF is much higher than it’s been. There’s recent polling by Total, I think, that showed above 80 percent approval for the government and particularly support within the ANSF, which have been fairly demoralized.

And frankly, the ANSF are still going a very good job of providing security for the country. I mean, they’re fighting their own battles against the insurgency. They’ve taken very heavy casualties during the fighting season this year, but they’ve also inflicted heavy casualties on the Taliban. So they’ve safeguarded both rounds of the elections. They’ve held terrain despite a pretty concerted effort by the Taliban. And we’re still – we’re actively working with all partners to figure out how we can best safeguard the country.

QUESTION: What did you hear – I assume you were briefed on the discussion about – here at NATO about going forward for Afghan. What have you heard in terms of troop commitments and what we’ll be seeing after January 1st from the international community in terms of security?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’m not concerned at all about RSM being fully resourced – Resolute Support mission. I think that there seems to be a strong commitment by the international community to fully resource it. A number of countries have already stepped up. Some have gone above and beyond initial commitments. And there doesn’t seem to be a significant concern about that being addressed.

I think what’s – what the issue has been is, again, due to the election delays and therefore the delays in the NATO SOFA signing, the BSA, and others, there was just – there’s a degree of uncertainty which made it very hard for countries to plan specific numbers and timetables to. But now that we have all that, it’s been very clear that the U.S. bridging will be only a very temporary measure to address the shortfall. And I think every country that I spoke with certainly understood that, appreciated the U.S. stepping in, but that it was going to be for a very limited duration.

QUESTION: And so – I’m sorry, I also misspoke. I understand you were here. What is your understanding of how temporary is – was there a timeline put on that, a deadline for making sure that that shortfall, that that bridge would be temporary?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think we’re talking no more than a few months.

QUESTION: And do you know the size of the gap now?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sorry?

QUESTION: Do you know the size of the gap now between what was committed and what’s actually been allocated?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t – I mean, it’s pretty fluid. I mean, again, we’ve gotten a number of these commitments just in the past few weeks, and it’s a pretty complex military logistics issue because not all the troops that each country commits go under the RSM umbrella, and so figuring out that piece of it given what the specific needs are and everything else, I mean, the number – the number is in flux.

MODERATOR: We have to wrap this up, but any other last questions? (No response.) All right. I just sent, [Senior State Department Official], your folks just a note about the appropriations stuff.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah.

MODERATOR: But otherwise, thank you and we’ll see you in London.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Yeah, absolutely. We’ll respond on both those, both the recent approps and well as what was held back on the incentive funding piece.

QUESTION: Yeah, the benchmarks would be great.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Thanks, [Senior State Department Official]. Have a good trip.

QUESTION: Thank you.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Okay, thanks.