Remarks With Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
NATO Headquarters
Brussels, Belgium
April 18, 2012

SECRETARY CLINTON: Good afternoon. I’m very pleased to join Secretary Panetta and our defense and foreign minister colleagues here in Brussels for this meeting, the joint ministerial of NATO, to prepare for the upcoming NATO summit in my birthplace, Chicago. The main focus of our conversations today was Afghanistan, which I will focus on tomorrow at the meeting of our ISAF partners. But let me say how grateful the United States is for the solidarity and steadfastness of our NATO allies and ISAF partners.

As difficult a week as this has been in Kabul and other parts of Afghanistan, the big picture is clear. The transition is on track, the Afghans are increasingly standing up for their own security and future, and NATO remains united in our support for the Lisbon timetable, and an enduring commitment to Afghanistan. The attacks in Kabul this week show us that while the threat remains real, the transition can work. The response by the Afghan National Security forces were fast and effective, and the attacks failed. Not long ago, this kind of response by Afghans themselves would not have been possible. So the Afghans are proving themselves increasingly ready to take control of their own future.

Now by their nature, transitions of any kind are challenging. There will be setbacks and hard days. But clear progress is happening, and today, NATO reaffirmed our commitment to stand with the Afghans to defend stability and security, to protect the gains of the last decade, and to prevent there ever being a return of al-Qaida or other extremists operating out of the Afghan territory.

Both Secretary Panetta and I were impressed by how united the NATO allies are in supporting the Lisbon timetable. We are on track to meet the December 2014 deadline for completing the security transition. Already 50 percent of the Afghan people are secured primarily by Afghan forces, and by this spring, it will be 75 percent. Today, we worked on the three initiatives for the Chicago summit next month.

First, we will agree on the next phase of transition to support our 2014 goals. Second, we want to be ready to define NATO’s enduring relationship with Afghanistan after 2014. And third, we are prepared to work with the Afghans to ensure that the Afghan National Security force is fully funded. NATO is united behind all these goals, so we are looking forward to a very productive summit in Chicago.

But let’s keep in mind that the transition and NATO’s mission are part of a larger enterprise, one that also has political and economic dimensions. Afghanistan’s neighbors have a central role to play in that larger enterprise along with the international community. Our common approach was sharpened when the international community met in Istanbul and Bonn last year, and will be carried forward when we meet again in Chicago, Kabul, and Tokyo this year.

So beyond NATO, many nations are invested in Afghanistan’s future and are providing support for the Afghans to attain self reliance, stability, and further their democratic future. They have to protect, however, as they go through this transition, their hard-fought political and economic and human rights progress. Incidents like the one we heard of yesterday when 150 Afghan girls became sick after the water at their school was poisoned, reminds us that there are people who would destroy Afghanistan’s long-term future in order to restrict the rights of women and girls. Human rights protections for religious and ethnic minorities are also still fragile. Universal human rights are critical to Afghanistan’s security and prosperity, and we will continue to make them a priority.

While NATO has worked very hard to assist the people of Afghanistan, NATO has also been changed by this experience. The alliance is now a leading force for security, not just in the Atlantic region, but globally. We are steadily deepening and broadening the partnerships NATO has with dozens of countries around the world, and our partners are adding valuable capability, legitimacy, and political support to NATO’s operations and missions from the Mediterranean and Libya to Kosovo and Afghanistan.

So we believe we are building a stronger, more flexible, more dynamic alliance enriched by partners from every continent and prepared to meet the security challenges of our time. With that, let me turn the floor to Secretary Panetta.

SECRETARY PANETTA: Thank you. Good afternoon. It’s a pleasure to join Secretary Clinton here in Brussels. We had a very good series of meetings today with our NATO defense and foreign minister counterparts. Much of our discussion focused on our shared effort in Afghanistan, and what came out of these meetings was a strong commitment to sticking to the plan and the strategy that has been laid out by General Allen, and finishing the job in Afghanistan. Allies and partners have a very clear vision and a very clear message. Our strategy is right, our strategy is working, and if we stick to it, we can achieve the mission of establishing an Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself, and never again become a safe haven for terrorists to plan attacks on our country or any other country.

All of us are committed to the goals that were set out in the Lisbon framework, including continuing the transition to full Afghan security leadership by the end of 2014. We know there will be continuing challenges, and we saw some of those challenges over this last weekend. This is a war. There will be losses, there will be casualties, there will be incidents of the kind that we have seen in the last few days. But we must not allow any of that to undermine our commitment to our strategy.

The fact is, with regards to the events that took place over the weekend, we saw Afghan security forces do what we have trained them to do. They responded quickly, professionally, and with great courage, rendering ineffective those largely symbolic attacks that we saw in and around Kabul.

General Allen said he visited an Afghan special operations commando who had been wounded in the insurgent attacks and asked him if he could do anything for him. The Afghan commando’s response was, and I quote, “I just want to get back out there with my brother soldiers,” unquote. That short phrase speaks volumes. As General Allen has made clear, history proves that insurgencies are best and ultimately defeated not by foreign troops but by indigenous security forces, forces that know the ground, that know the territory, that know the culture, that know the neighborhood. When the Afghans do their job, we are doing our job. When the Afghans win, we win.

And the Afghans are making progress. They are in the lead now in areas that encompass more than 50 percent of the population in Afghanistan. When the third tranche of areas are transferred, we will have 75 percent of the population under Afghan governance and security. They have been in the lead for counterterrorism night operations since December. And now, thanks to a memorandum of understanding that was recently signed, all of these operations will fall under the authority of Afghan law. In less than six months’ time, Afghan security forces will take full leadership of detention operations, thanks again to another agreement that was signed recognizing Afghan sovereignty.

As I’ve said, 2011 was a real turning point. It was the first time in five years that we saw a drop in the number of enemy attacks. Over the past 12 weeks, enemy attacks continue to decrease compared to the same period in 2011. Taliban has been weakened, Afghan army operations are progressing, and the reality is that the transition to Afghan security and governance is continuing and progressing.

We see other signs that we are seriously degrading the insurgency. By January 2011, 600 Taliban had integrated into the society. This month, that number topped 4,000. We intend to build on this success. We’re committed to an enduring presence in Afghanistan post-2014 and a continuing effort to train, advise, and assist the ANSF in protecting the Afghan people and denying terrorists a safe haven. We cannot and we will not abandon Afghanistan. The key to our enduring partnership is continued international support. We cannot shortchange the security that must be provided by the Afghan forces now and in the future.

Today, I will also discuss with my NATO counterparts the steps needed to ensure that the alliance has the right military capabilities for the future. Across the board, allies are making important commitments to smart defense, with opportunities for new capabilities in ISR, missile defense, and air-to-air refueling. While significant progress has been made, important work lies ahead. The NATO we build is not only the force of today; it must be the force of 2020.

I’m pleased to announce that earlier today, along with Czech Defense Minister Vondra, I signed the Reciprocal Defense Procurement Agreement with the Czech Republic. The agreement reaffirms the importance and vitality of the U.S.-Czech defense relationship and enhances our cooperative security relationship. And as you know, this is the last high-level meeting before the Chicago summit in May. I think Secretary Clinton and I will take back to President Obama the results of these discussions. And I believe we have helped lay the groundwork for a very successful summit, and most importantly, for a strong and enduring NATO alliance.

MS. NULAND: We’ll take three today. Let’s start with Reuters. Arshad Mohammed, please.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, I’m sure that you will have seen that the violence – the government violence continues in Syria. Homs continues to be shelled, I think almost every day since the ceasefire ostensibly took effect. And the Syrian foreign minister has pushed back against the kind of mission that Kofi Annan would like to insert, saying that it should be no more than 250 monitors, they don’t need their own helicopters and mobility, and they should be from friendly countries.

Given this, is it now time for the United States to look harder at whatever kinds of pressure can be brought to bear against the Assad government? And specifically, are you giving any more thought to rethinking your previous opposition to others arming the rebels? And are you giving any more thought to trying to get the Arabs to impose a more forceful sanctions regime on Syria?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, Arshad, first of all, Syria was a subject of conversation among many of our allies today. Every country in NATO is watching the situation with concern. I don’t want to prejudge what does or does not happen with the observers. The first tranche of the UN monitors is just beginning to deploy. It is, obviously, quite concerning that while we are deploying these monitors pursuant to a Security Council resolution that confirms our commitment to Kofi Annan’s six-point plan, the guns of the Assad regime are once again firing in Homs, Idlib, and elsewhere, and Syrians continue to die. So we are certainly cognizant of the very challenging road ahead. We are all here, united in favor of Kofi Annan’s plan and his urgent call for a robust monitoring force.

But we are at a crucial turning point. Either we succeed in pushing forward with Kofi Annan’s plan in accordance with the Security Council direction, with the help of monitors steadily broadening and deepening a zone of non-conflict and peace, or we see Assad squandering his last chance before additional measures have to be considered.

Now, we will continue to increase the pressure on Assad. I spoke with several ministers about the need to tighten sanctions, tighten pressure on the regime, on those who support the regime. And we also are going to continue pressing for a political solution, which remains the goal of Kofi Annan’s plan and the understandable goal of anyone who wants to see a peaceful transition occur in Syria.

I also would add that I’ve only spoken for the United States. The United States is not providing lethal arms, but as I’ve said before, the United States is providing communications and logistics and other support for the opposition. And we will continue to do everything we can to assist the opposition to be perceived as – and in reality become – the alternative voice for the Syrian people’s future.

And make no mistake about it; this conflict is taking place right on NATO’s border. We saw, just last week, the shelling across the borders into Turkey and into Lebanon. Our NATO ally, Turkey, has already suffered the effects of not only the influx of refugees that it is very generously housing, but also having two people killed on their side of the border because of Syrian artillery.

So we will remain in very close touch as events unfold. I look forward to continuing our consultations tomorrow at the ad-hoc group meeting that will be hosted by Foreign Minister Juppe in Paris.

But as I have reiterated, we will judge the Assad regime by their actions, not their words. We have been working to try to reach consensus in the Security Council, which we did in support of Kofi Annan’s six-point plan. The burden has shifted, not only to the Assad regime, but to those who support it to be forced to explain why, after time and time again stating that they will end the violence, the violence continues. So obviously, this is going to be a very high priority for all of us going forward.

QUESTION: Is it okay for others to arm any rebels?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I’m not speaking for anyone but the United States of America.

MODERATOR: The next question will be from Anne Gearan of the Associated Press.

QUESTION: Yes. To both of you, please, could I ask you to comment on publication today of photos purportedly showing U.S. troops posing with the corpses of Taliban militants? What did you think when you heard about this? What did you think when you saw the photos? And doesn’t this sort of undermine all the progress that you claim and the strategy you laid out just a moment ago?

Secondly, if I could ask each of you to respond to President Karzai’s remark yesterday that he would like a firm written commitment of 2 billion a year from the United States for security forces. Should he be concerned that you’re going to renege on that promise? And why doesn’t he just take your word for it?

SECRETARY PANETTA: With regards to the photos, I strongly condemned what we see in those photos, as has General Allen. That behavior that was depicted in those photos absolutely violates both our regulations, and more importantly, our core values. This is not who we are, and it’s certainly not who we represent when it comes to the great majority of men and women in uniform who are serving there.

I expect that the matter will be fully investigated. That investigation has already begun. This is a matter that goes back, I believe, to 2010, but it needs to be fully investigated, and that investigation, as I understand, is already underway. And wherever those facts lead, we will take the appropriate action. If rules and regulations were found to have been violated, then those individuals will be held accountable.

Let me also say this: This is war. And I know that war is ugly and it’s violent. And I know that young people sometimes caught up in the moment make some very foolish decisions. I am not excusing that. That’s – I’m not excusing that behavior. But neither do I want these images to bring further injury to our people or to our relationship with the Afghan people. We had urged the L.A. Times not to run those photos, and the reason for that is those kinds of photos are used by the enemy to incite violence, and lives have been lost as a result of the publication of similar photos in the past, so we regret that they were published. But having said that, again, that behavior is unacceptable, and it will be fully investigated.

With regards to President Karzai’s comment, we – as both the Secretary of State and I know from our own experience, you have to deal with Congress when it comes to what funds are going to be provided. And we don’t, nor do – we do not have the power to lock in money for the Afghans or anybody else.

QUESTION: Did you apologize on behalf of the United States for those photos or the actions depicted in them in your meetings today?

SECRETARY PANETTA: I was not asked about it, but obviously, my apology is on behalf of the Department of Defense and the U.S. Government.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: And the final question will come from Petro Dekurning of NRC Handelsblad, a Dutch newspaper.

QUESTION: Madam Secretary, the secretary general told us that some allies already came up with contributions for the Afghan army after 2014. Are you satisfied with this? And while this was not a pledging conference, what do you expect? What amounts do you expect from the allies to come up with? Thank you.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, we were very encouraged by the commitment from the NATO allies to the funding of the Afghan National Security Forces. We believe that we are on the path to ensuring that these security forces, which, as Leon has just said, made such progress because of our training and mentoring over the last few years, will have the resources necessary to protect the Afghan state and the Afghan people. So I’m going to let individual countries make their own announcements.

But as we move forward toward the NATO summit, one of the goals is to ensure that NATO has an enduring relationship with Afghanistan, and in many ways, not just in terms of financial commitments, but in other ways as well. A lot of the member countries are stepping up and talking about what they intend to do. And similarly, tomorrow, we expect to hear from a number of our ISAF partners about their continuing commitment as well. So I think both Leon and I were encouraged and believe we’re making progress.

MS. NULAND: Thank you very much.

PRN: 2012/ T62-07