Briefing En Route Brussels, Belgium

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
En Route Brussels, Belgium
December 3, 2009

STAFF: Now, don’t you think the best way to follow up nine hours of testimony is 10 minutes with an eager press corps?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I think that’s probably a good idea, Mark.

STAFF: There’s 10 minutes between now and takeoff, sure.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, absolutely.

QUESTION: Well, maybe we could just ask you to preview for us what you hope to get out of tomorrow --


QUESTION: -- and specifically (inaudible).

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we have a lot of people on the ground already who are working and talking with our NATO allies. Ambassador Holbrooke is there, Deputy Jim Steinberg is there, Assistant Secretary Phil Gordon is there, obviously our Ambassador Ivo Daalder is there. And we’ve been doing intensive outreach to all of our NATO ISAF partners.

I spoke with Secretary General Rasmussen yesterday. He has been also traveling to capitals, meeting with heads of state. And we are encouraged that we’re going to, beginning tomorrow but not ending tomorrow, have a number of public announcements about additional troop commitments, additional civilian assistance, and development aid as well.

The response has been positive. I’ve spoken to probably 20, 25 of my counterparts over the last week. And there is an understanding about the importance of the mission that the President has described. There is a desire to be able to explain it to the publics of various countries, and to make sure that in coalition governments the political stars are in alignment to be able to announce additional commitments. But we feel good about it.

QUESTION: May I ask about the 2011 date? We had understood, or we heard yesterday that there was some, perhaps, confusion about the timetable. Do you think you have a lot to do to explain that? Do you think the allies understand the balancing act between surging and withdrawing?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think that we’re very clear that this is, as Secretary Gates said this morning, an inflection point, that starting in 2011, we will be prepared for a responsible transfer of security responsibility to the Afghan security forces based on the conditions as we evaluate them at that time. Now, that doesn’t mean we’re going to get to 2011 and jump off a cliff. It means that we’re going to be as careful and deliberative as necessary, but that we expect by 2011 to be able to pass off (inaudible) the responsibility for security to an improved, larger Afghan security force, which we will be training with simultaneously over the next 18 months.

So I think that there have been (inaudible) misunderstandings about what that date meant, which I hope we’ve cleared up in the last two days of testimony and which I’ll be more than happy to discuss with any of our partners in Brussels.

QUESTION: Why do you think there was that misunderstanding? Because this is something that was very important for the President to really nail.


QUESTION: So if he didn’t nail it --

SECRETARY CLINTON: But, Jill, if you go back and look at his speech, what he said – and then what I just said is in his speech. It said that that will be a day that we – that that will be the time when we begin to transfer security. We will do it in a responsible way based on conditions. But I think that some people seized on that, for whatever reason or lack of understanding, as a way to try to create a difference where I’m not sure there is one between where they are and where the President is.

QUESTION: What are you looking for from NATO?

QUESTION: Is it mainly trainers? Is it mainly --

SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s everything. It’s the whole range of more combat forces and more trainers, but there is not as big a distinction between those two as some have, I think, unrealistically posited, because the best way to actually create a fighting unit is through partnering in combat. So yes, there are people who will do what we think of as training – here’s how you load your weapons, here’s what – the kind of logistical experiences you need. But we’ve got to bring the Afghan security forces into the fight.

And it is a fact that General McChrystal has made a number of significant changes that one would ask, why weren’t they made before, but the fact is they weren’t. And so we are implementing a new training approach. We are implementing a different form of partnering between NATO ISAF and the Afghans. When I was there, Minister Wardak, the defense minister who has been there from the very beginning – and he has really labored hard, everybody who knows him who has worked with him has a high opinion of him – he was just with this big smile on his face telling me that it’s the first time he has felt fully integrated into the NATO ISAF structure.

I mean, that’s a little bit discouraging when one looks back, but he said we’re in it now, we’re getting the intelligence now. McChrystal has changed some of the rules of engagement on air support for combat, on nighttime raids using dogs. There has been so much change, and we’ve seen improvements in Helmand Province since the Marines arrived in July.

So this is putting all the pieces together, and I think that when you say, well, what will be doing – combat, training, logistical support, intelligence, all of that is part of the kind of partnership we’re now trying to provide to the Afghans.

PRN: 2009/T16-1