On-The-Record Briefing on Afghanistan

Special Briefing
Richard Olson
Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan 
Washington, DC
April 4, 2016


MODERATOR: All right, great. Well, then, without further ado, I will hand it over.

AMBASSADOR OLSON: Okay. So thanks very much. So I’ll just talk for a couple minutes, and then we’ll open it up for your questions. The Secretary’s going to Kabul after a period of fairly intensive engagement with the Government of Afghanistan. As you may recall, the President had a video conference with President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah on March 4th. Vice President Biden and Secretary Kerry met with President Ghani in Davos in January. And the Secretary also met with President Ghani in Munich a few weeks later at the Munich Security Conference, and then back in the fall, Tony Blinken – Deputy Secretary Blinken – traveled to Islamabad for the Heart of Asia Summit, and then to – on to Kabul and met with President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah.

The Bilateral Commission is the framework for our bilateral relationship. It stems out of the Strategic Partnership Agreement that we concluded with the Afghans in 2012. There are three working groups that have met or some of them will be meeting this week before the overarching ministerial. There’s a working group on security and defense, democracy and governance, and social and economic development. And the Secretary, with Foreign Minister Rabbani, will overview the accomplishments, what’s been done in all of those areas, and they’ll be holding a press event together to mark that.

This comes – in terms of timing, this comes 18 months into the five-year administration of the national unity government. It comes at a time when the national unity government has filled key national security positions, including chairman of the High Peace Council, which is the body charged with dealing with reconciliation. Thirty-one out of thirty-four provincial governors have been named, and it’s executing a domestic policy that is focused on combating corruption, improving the Afghan economy, and strengthening government finances, and, of course, is pursuing a policy of Afghan-led, Afghan-owned reconciliation, notably in cooperation with the Government of Pakistan and the Quadrilateral Coordinating Group.

Of course, it also – this comes in the context of the President’s decision in the fall to continue to maintain 9,800 troops through the fighting season, and then going down to 5,500 by the beginning of next year. That’s U.S. troops. And this reflects the Administration’s commitment to continuing the two key missions that our forces have been carrying out – that is, the train, advise, and assist mission for the Afghan National Security Forces that we believe will be necessary for the foreseeable future, and also, of course, the counterterrorism mission.

So – and I would say also in addition to this, that one of the things we want to do is look at Afghanistan in a broader context. If we look at sort of the experience that the international community and specifically our country has had in Afghanistan over the past 15 years, we want to take account of the advances that have been made in development, particularly health and education, electricity, telecommunications. It really is a very changed society.

No doubt there have been challenges. There have been challenges both in terms of politics, but also in terms of the resilience…of the Taliban. And there have been challenges, but we are committed to supporting the national unity government as it goes forward in anticipation it’s going to go through its full five-year term.

QUESTION: Just simply stated, I mean, in a sentence that hopefully doesn’t include the phrase “binational commission,” what is the main purpose of the Secretary’s visit? (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: That’s not possible. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: That is – you can’t because that is --

AMBASSADOR OLSON: Well, I mean, that is – that is --

QUESTION: No, but substantively --

AMBASSADOR OLSON: That is the purpose of it.

QUESTION: Yeah.

QUESTION: What’s the single sales objective?

AMBASSADOR OLSON: Okay. So the Secretary wants to signal continuing U.S. support for the national unity government. It’s at the 18-month mark in a five-year term, and we remain committed to supporting the national unity government.