Joint Press Availability With Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah

Press Availability
John Kerry
Secretary of State
Camp David
March 23, 2015


SECRETARY KERRY: Good afternoon, everybody. I’m really very pleased to be here, together with Secretary Carter, to welcome the president of Afghanistan, President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah. We’re very, very pleased to be here with them today.

As most of you know, and I had a chance to share with our guests, Camp David was named after the grandson of Dwight Eisenhower, who in 1959 became the first American president to visit Afghanistan. And en route from the airport in Kabul, Eisenhower was greeted by tens of thousands of cheering citizens. While in country, he paid tribute to our bilateral friendship, relationship, and shared values and the courage and the fierce independence of the Afghan people – a pride of independence that we have come to know well.

He also marveled at his ability, I might add, to travel so far in such a short time, remarking on how closely drawn together the world was in the middle of the 20th century. Well, today’s productive meetings underscore both the enduring nature of the U.S.-Afghan friendship and the extent to which we have grown even closer after 14 years of shared sacrifice.

It’s worth underscoring that today marks an unprecedented and comprehensive high-level visit. From the dinner that I was privileged to host last night at my home together with my wife Teresa, to the Pentagon tribute for our troops this morning, to a full day here at Camp David, to meetings at the White House that will take place tomorrow, other meetings that the president will be having with various journalists and entities around Washington, and then finally meetings with the Congress on Wednesday and then to the United Nations, we have packed, literally, several visits worth into one. And we believe that speaks volumes about our commitment to Afghanistan and to its citizens, who believe in their future with an inclusive government that serves them all.

Our delegations held three separate sessions, beginning with security, then moving on to the issues of reconciliation and regional cooperation, and concluding with economic matters. American participants, in addition to Secretary Carter, included Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, the directors of national intelligence, the CIA, and a range of other top officials in areas of diplomacy, development, and defense. Tomorrow, President Obama will welcome President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah to the White House.

The depth of our discussions today reflect the critical nature of this moment, with Afghanistan’s government of national unity now fully responsible for the security of its people and moving ahead on a reform agenda of its own design. At the center of our bilateral relationship is a shared commitment to security and peace and a desire to promote prosperity and social progress throughout Afghanistan. These goals are outlined in the 2012 enduring strategic partnership agreement between our governments, the implementation of which is being tracked by the bilateral commission.

Later this year I will be traveling to Kabul to join Foreign Minister Rabbani in hosting a meeting of the commission, which will be the first such meeting since 2013. I’m also pleased to announce today a new initiative, a plan to create a new development partnership aligned with the unity government’s reform agenda. This initiative reflects the strategic importance of the U.S.-Afghan relationship and it recognizes a new era of cooperation between our governments. The partnership will promote Afghan self-reliance by using up to 800 million in U.S. aid to incentivize and measure Afghan-led reform and development activities and strengthen Afghan institutions, sustainability, and fiscal transparency, and give the new unity government more opportunity to lead its own development trajectory. And in today’s discussion we committed to an energy working group that will focus on the synergies of the regional energy market.

Before closing, I just want to add that I had the privilege last year during the post-election period of spending quite a few hours with these Afghan leaders. A lot of people felt that because of the hard-fought election and the nature of the presidential contest that they would never come together and that Afghanistan would literally split wide open as a result. Close-up, that is not what I saw. I saw two men who understood very clearly what the stakes were for their country, both of whom were determined to validate what was, in fact, a remarkable democratic process, both of whom who were determined to do what was right.

It is easy today to underestimate the measure of courage and leadership and selflessness that was demanded at that moment and that both of these leaders continue to show in their commitment to a unity government.

Huge challenges remain. We all know that. But there is good news in Afghanistan. Life expectancy has risen by 20 years. Health care access has increased dramatically. The number of children in school has risen from some 900,000, who were just boys, to 8 million now, with 40 percent of them girls. The overall economy has been growing, and the combined security forces are now larger and more capable. That is, in fact, no surprise to those courageous American servicemen and women and to the contractors and others who’ve been committed to this endeavor.

On his flight out of Afghanistan 56 years ago, President Eisenhower turned to a friend and said the Afghans were the most determined lot of people he had ever encountered. Today, I have confidence that in the president and chief executive we have people who are determined, and I believe that the vast majority of Afghans are committed to the kind of policies that will create, ultimately foster prosperity, and build peace. We were very touched today at the Pentagon to hear President Ghani affirm the bonds of friendship between our countries that have been forged in sacrifice.

And now I am pleased to turn the floor over to my colleague, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter.

SECRETARY CARTER: Thank you, Secretary Kerry, and let me add my thanks to yours. To President Ghani, Dr. Abdullah, our colleagues Secretary of Treasury Lew, Director Clapper, Director Brennan for a remarkable day of conversations here at Camp David. And I again want to express my appreciation to President Ghani for addressing the men and women of the Defense Department this morning at the Pentagon and for thanking the more than 850,000 American troops and civilians and thousands more contractors who have deployed to Afghanistan over the years. President Ghani’s remarks at the Pentagon have underscored the extent to which the United States now has a revitalized partnership with Afghanistan’s new unity government.

As many of you know, I saw President Ghani and Doctor Abdullah in Kabul last month, where I was also able to thank the nearly 10,000 American troops still serving there and to assess the changed circumstances on the ground there. Today, we continued this discussion on the progress and the challenges facing Afghan forces as they prepare for the coming fighting season and beyond; developments in NATO’s train, advise, and assist mission; counterterrorism, and Afghanistan’s long-term security objectives.

Being here with Secretary Kerry and Secretary Lew also puts Afghanistan’s security challenges in the broader context of its political and economic development, because as President Ghani himself has said, our relationship is not defined by the numbers of troops but by the comprehensive nature of our partnership. We know security can’t be isolated from the aspirations that ordinary Afghans seek to fulfill every day in seeking to find jobs, feed their families, or educate their children. President Obama has been very clear that while U.S. and coalition troops have transitioned to a new mission in Afghanistan, the United States maintains an unwavering commitment to a strong and enduring strategic partnership with Afghanistan. We will be discussing that further tomorrow in the White House with the President.

And as one part of that commitment, today we can announce that the Defense Department intends to seek funding for Afghan forces to sustain an end strength of 352,000 personnel through 2017. Afghan and coalition military commanders have jointly recommended this force size at least through 2017 to ensure that the security gains we’ve made together are lasting. Now, a force of this size will come at significant cost for Afghanistan and for its international partners, so we will work closely with them to ensure that we are charting a path towards a sustainable and affordable force for the long term.

As we do so, we appreciate President Ghani and Doctor Abdullah’s commitment to ensuring that Afghanistan’s government and its armed forces remain focused on accountability, transparency, and reform. And DOD remains committed to working with members of Congress to ensure that our investments in Afghanistan continue to support our national security interests while contributing to regional stability and a brighter Afghan future.

Today, we also agreed after an interruption of three years to reinstate the U.S.-Afghanistan Security Consultative Forum, which the Defense Department will lead along with the Afghan Ministries of Defense and Interior, and which will serve as a partner to the body that Secretary Kerry will lead on behalf of our government as a whole with his counterparts. This mechanism will open the door to new opportunities to strengthen our enduring partnership.

So let me thank President Ghani and Doctor Abdullah once again for being here with us at Camp David, once again for visiting our troops and our families this morning. Thank you, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT GHANI: In the name of God the compassionate, the merciful, first of all, let me thank you, Secretary Kerry, Secretary Carter, Secretary Lew, Director Clapper, and Director Brennan for a remarkable day, and thank President Obama for making Camp David available to us.

I was 10 years old when President Eisenhower visited Afghanistan. All the school children were lined up to greet the President of the United States. What impressed us most was he chose to ride in an open car. All other heads of state that visited Afghanistan would not show their faces to the public or stand in an open car. That openness is what has characterized the American attitude to life, to politics, and to engagement.

Today, we’ve been very privileged – Dr. Abdullah and I and our colleagues – to engage in a discussion that characterizes a discussion among enduring partners. First of all, again, I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the men and women in uniform who have done the ultimate sacrifice: 2,215 Americans have lost – members of the armed forces have lost their lives; numerous members of the Secret Service and civilians. They will be part of our enduring memories, and we pay tribute to them. Equally, over 20,000 American military members have been wounded in action. We pray for their recovery and we hope that their families will recover from the trauma.

American troops – around 850,000 plus contractors – have gotten to know us in ways that very few people have known our country. They know locations that most Afghans probably don’t. They served in the highest peaks, in the most difficult deserts, and the barest of places with the minimum – with minimum support structures. But what they brought was a difference in attitude. We Afghans are fiercely proud, but we always know the difference between those who come in anger and those who come to support us.

It’s not Dr. Abdullah and I alone who want to say thank you. The parliament of Afghanistan by overwhelmingly supporting the Bilateral Security Agreement, previously the consultative Loya Jirga endorsing this, speaks for a consensus. This is a foundational relationship, and we are very proud that this relationship will be transformed into an enduring relationship.

The government of national unity is an enduring phenomenon, and one of its key characteristics is its honesty in dealing with the balance sheet that we have inherited. We have had accomplishments. but we also have inherited corruption, impunity regarding rule of law, gender disparities, disparities between rich and poor, and the enduring poverty – 36 percent of our population still lives under the poverty line. Our determination is to make sure that our people live not just in peace, but with dignity and prosperity.

So I welcome the new developmental framework because this is a framework that will incentivize the Afghan public and the Afghan Government to put our house in order. To be able to spend money on budget and in terms of priorities, we must commit to reforms that our people want and desire. And this is a new mechanism, and I hope that this becomes the new way of doing business.

I very much welcome the energy initiative because that is the difference between Afghanistan of today and the Afghanistan of the future. This energy initiative will turn us into a hub where energy from Central Asia and also increasingly generated into – from Afghanistan will flow into South Asia. It would make the dream of Asian integration a reality, and I look very much forward to working with you.

Simultaneously, I’d like to express appreciation to Secretary Carter for announcing support for the 2017 – for requesting 2017 budget support at the current numbers. This is a major statement of support. Our armed forces and our security forces are going to greet this with enormous welcome because it gives them the assurance that the Resolute Support Mission is continuing and that we are able to focus on our key priorities.

Just briefly, the security environment, we must recognize, is difficult. But our armed forces – an all-volunteer force – are ready to do their patriotic duty. The transition from international forces to Afghan forces has been smooth. We have endured immense sacrifice, but that’s our patriotic duty. We want to thank you for the assist support mission, train-assist-support mission, because that is vital to the continued relationship and buildup of the capabilities of our armed forces.

Peace is our goal, but peace from strength and enduring peace that would bring regional cooperation, and it is important that all regional actors translate their words of the need for a stable and prosperous Afghanistan into deeds, and we hope very much that the past will be overcome and the future will be different from the past and would correspond to our vision.

On the economy, I can assure you that we have a sense of urgency. The reforms that are necessary to create a self-sustaining base to pay not only for our armed forces but for social services. And for uplifting the population out of poverty, our key focus in this depends both on utilization of our immense natural resources, but also regional economic integration and trade.

So once again, let me take this opportunity to thank the national security team of the United States for spending not just time but very valuable time with us. The value proposition today has been of immense benefit to the people of Afghanistan, and we hope to the people of the United States where our joint endeavors will ensure both our security and your security. So let me thank you again and thank the American people for trusting in this partnership and investing in it.

Doctor Abdullah.

CEO ABDULLAH: (In Dari), President Ghani, Secretary Kerry, Secretary Carter, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon to all of you. I join President Ghani in thanking the American Administration, the American people for its contributions and sacrifices made alongside the people of Afghanistan which resulted in the change of lives for millions of Afghans for better. Now you have not only – you have a committed and dedicated partner in Afghan leaders, but also you have a grateful nation which is grateful for what you have done for us.

Today was a unique opportunity to once again take stock of what has happened, but, more importantly, the way forward. In four rounds of sessions, which I considered sessions of quality discussions and which in my engagement with our partners, I can consider it as a very unique, quality discussion opportunity. Truly, it was. Security, economic development, governance, reform, fiscal policies, reconciliation, regional cooperation were discussed, and not only we had honest exchanges of views and understanding of one another, but at the same time we strengthened our commitment to continue with the path of partnership, which has reached, as a result of formation of the unity government – I can also call it a new chapter in our relations with the United States. Once again, thank you for all what you have done, and the very intense schedule during our upcoming days, and at the same time but talking about President Eisenhower’s visit to Afghanistan, there was a little bit of age revelation as well. (Laughter.)

PRESIDENT GHANI: Exactly.

CEO ABDULLAH: So I don’t remember that visit; I’d heard about it.

PRESIDENT GHANI: Were you born?

CEO ABDULLAH: That’s a different question. (Laughter.) So that shows that the relations goes back to the history, and then you have been with us during easy times and difficult times. And with today’s discussions and the upcoming opportunities that we are going to have, we will go back to our people reassured, strengthened, motivated – further motivated to continue the path in pursuit of our interest in our common interest which is in stable Afghanistan, democratic Afghanistan, connected Afghanistan, Afghanistan which is not a burden on its partners anymore but rather playing its part in giving to the region as well as to the world. Thank you all.

And on behalf of the unity government, President Ghani spoke this morning eloquently and that was expression of our thoughts, our feelings towards your servicemen, towards your country, towards your people. I join him in every word, and our commitment to make the unity government a functioning – a more functioning idea – not only idea, but an opportunity for the people of Afghanistan and opportunity for our partners is that we still rely on your support, but we are moving towards self-reliance. And as a result of that, Afghanistan will be a better place. Our region will be a more prosperous place.

Once again, thank you.

MS. PSAKI: The first question will be from Pam Dockins of VOA.

QUESTION: Thank you. Secretary Kerry, first of all, is the U.S. any closer to any agreement on a amended timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan? And if so, how many U.S. troops do you anticipate will be staying behind?

President Ghani, how many U.S. troops would you like to remain in Afghanistan beyond the end of 2016? And also President Ghani, you said that Afghanistan was not going to be a burden, the country would work to get its house in order. What do you plan to do to ensure that the country is not a burden?

And finally for Secretary Carter, can you guarantee the safety of U.S. service members after the Islamic State posted the identities of 100 service members and said they should be targeted?

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, as you know, the United States ended its combat mission in December of 2014, last year. And the Afghan Government, as I mentioned in my comments, now has the full responsibility for the security of the country. And we have drawn down our presence to roughly 10,000 troops. Now, while our combat mission has ended, we maintain our strategic partnership with the Government of Afghanistan. We continue our support for its efforts to pursue the reforms and continue to train its armed forces in order to end the conflict.

President Obama and President Ghani have had regular discussions about the transition that is taking place in Afghanistan. President Ghani has requested some flexibility in that process, and it’s our understanding – it’s our knowledge that President Obama is actively considering that request. Those discussions remain ongoing and those will really be the focus of the discussions tomorrow with President Obama in the White House. So I think I will simply say that we intend to continue to work very closely on all of the parameters that were discussed here today – the finance, the economy, the reforms, the reconciliation, and of course, energy and security as we have all discussed. And that’s our – that’s the road ahead.

MODERATOR: Please.

SECRETARY CARTER: Well, with respect to the question that you asked of me, force protection is, of course, a paramount objective of us with respect to our forces all over the world. The information that was posted by ISIL was information taken from social websites and publicly available. It wasn’t stolen from any DOD websites or any confidential databases. We take the safety of our people very seriously. At the same time, this is the kind of social media messaging of a vile sort that ISIL specializes in, and that’s the reason and the kind of behavior that causes us to be determined to defeat ISIL in the first place.

PRESIDENT GHANI: The question on numbers is a decision for the President of the United States, and that decision will solely be made by President Obama. What we have emphasized and agreed is that we are strategic partners; we are bound by common interests and will act together to ensure both the safety of United States and the safety of Afghanistan. That is the important consideration. Numbers are a means; they are not an end in themselves. So we are not going to get involved in any discussion of numbers. That’s a field for experts, and we defer to the judgment of those experts such as General Campbell and the very able group of the national security team of the United States.

What I want to emphasize is that Afghan National Security Forces are an all-volunteer force – every single member of this. The defense of our homeland is first and foremost our patriotic duty. Tragedy brought us together – the tragedy of 9/11. Now we have created an enduring frame of partnership. This is based on common values, respect for democratic process, electoral reforms, empowerment of women, education of girls, eradication of poverty. What are we doing not to be a burden, first of all, is to take control of our destiny. Last – two years ago there were 130,000 U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan. Now there are around 12,000. The transition has been probably one of the most effective transitions from an internationally supported regime to a national regime. That should speak for our determination, for our political will, and for our commitment to our nation.

In terms of providing the economic underpinning, we are fully invested in creating a functioning economy and we are – today we are a rich-poor country, meaning we are one of the richest natural resource deposits in our soil, in our water, in our mineral resources, our oil and gas, and particularly our rare earth material. But our people are poor. We want to translate that natural wealth into a social wealth for our people, and that will ensure that within the framework of 10 years that we’ve put in our paper on self-reliance, we will be able to provide for the full services that our people expect from a functioning government.

And our political unity is, as expressed in the government of national unity, is the most important asset. We have chosen unity over division. We have chosen focus on the future instead of repetition of the past, and we stand united to achieve our common goals.

MODERATOR: Next question, Ayub Khawreen, VOA.

QUESTION: Secretary Kerry, my name is Ayub Khawreen from the Voice of America Afghanistan Service. We broadcast to Afghanistan Pashto and Dari live, and in fact, this conference is right now seen live in Afghanistan, and you will be translated into Pashto and Dari.

My other question on security or U.S. troops commitment was already asked, so I’ll move on to the peace efforts. President Ghani’s vision for peace efforts and getting Pakistan on board to support the peace talks is seen visionary and transformational for the region. How or in what ways can the U.S. be supportive of improving the relations between Kabul and Islamabad in getting Islamabad to support the peace talks and bring Taliban into – to the table?

And secondly, is the U.S. commitment on funding the Afghan national troops, Afghan national army or security forces, is extended till 2016, and you’re asking for 2017 from Congress? But the major part or the first part of this question is the commitment of U.S. troops beyond 2016. How flexible or the chances of flexibility is there beyond 2016 of U.S. Army or servicemen in Afghanistan? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, thank you. Good question, both questions. I’ll let Secretary Carter handle the troop part of that. Let me speak to the peace efforts. We believe, without any question, that the surest way to peace and stability in Afghanistan and the region is for reconciliation to take place. We believe that reconciliation should be Afghan-led, Afghan-structured, and we support the president’s very important, courageous, necessary effort to try to see if that reconciliation can take place. The United States will support that in every way that we possibly can.

I am convinced that the passage of the BSA, the Bilateral Security Agreement; the flexibility that President Obama made already in a decision that he made about how we will continue to provide support in training and equipping and assisting the Afghan forces; the efforts we have made with Pakistan, the efforts that President Ghani has made to reach out to Pakistan and the reciprocity of Pakistan; together with the announcement that Secretary Carter just made about the troop support at 352,000 through 2017 – all of these things have to send a message together with this press conference, the four of us standing here, the day we have spent today, the day we’re spending tomorrow, the next day – all of these underscore to any Taliban, to anybody who wants to engage in violence, that we are prepared for the long term to support our friends in Afghanistan.

There’s been too much sacrifice. There’s been too much violence. There have been too many lost lives and injured people – Afghanistan and others, and other countries who have served. More than 50 nations made up this effort in ISAF over these years.

So this is a global commitment to rule of law, to inclusivity, to democracy, to a process where the people of Afghanistan will choose their future. And we hope the Taliban will take advantage of this moment, that they will see that the real way to define the future for their country and to serve the needs of people is to come together through a political process and resolve that future.

Now, we have three fundamentals that we think are important: The Taliban needs to give up violence; they need to sever any ties to any terrorist organization; and they need to support the constitution of Afghanistan. Within that framework, we believe the president and the Government of Afghanistan have enormous latitude to work with the Taliban on defining that future. And as I said, President Obama is committed to doing everything possible that we can to help support President Ghani and CEO Abdullah and the people of Afghanistan in that effort.

SECRETARY CARTER: With respect to the 352,000, the transition that we are embarked upon and that passed an important milestone in late December and that we have been discussing in detail today and that President Ghani and Dr. Abdullah will be speak – discussing further with President Obama tomorrow is a transition from coalition and U.S. lead for security in Afghanistan to a situation in which the Afghan Security Forces will be the ones that are in the lead. So looking ahead to 2017, that is the force that will be in the lead and responsible for security in Afghanistan with a train, advise, and assist role from the United States and its coalition partners and counterterrorism activities. But the bulk of the security burden will be borne by Afghan forces. That’s the path that we’re on.

The Afghan Security Forces are under a tremendous and very admirable process of change and evolution now. They’re taking on new missions. They are developing – further developing their special operations forces. They’re incorporating advanced ISR strike and mobility and other enabling platforms. They’re professionalized in many ways; they’re streamlining their logistics and their support and their sustainment. So there are a lot of things going on in this force, and by pinning one thing down, which is the number – overall number in 2017, that’s a way of providing some stability to the Afghan Security Forces and a perspective into the future as they otherwise undergo this very significant transition.

Now with respect to the number of U.S. forces, that is something that will be discussed with President Obama tomorrow, but for the specific question you raised about U.S. and coalition forces after 2016, our objective – and I think the President has made this very clear – is to be down to a very small enduring presence in 2017 and beyond, which has the mission of train, advise, and assist in counterterrorism. The main event in those years will be the Afghan Security Forces, and this is a way of providing some future horizon and stability to that force as it builds itself and takes over an increasing share of the security mission in Afghanistan.

MS. PSAKI: The next question is from Phil Stewart of Reuters.

QUESTION: Thank you. To President Ghani, does the need to keep Afghan forces at their peak targeted level of 352,000, beyond providing stability --

PRESIDENT GHANI: Could you --

QUESTION: Yeah. Beyond providing stability, does the need to keep Afghan forces at their peak targeted level reflect your concerns about the security situation in Afghanistan? And could you speak a bit about whether or not Afghan forces can actually reach that level if they’re not there now?

PRESIDENT GHANI: I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you.

QUESTION: Whether Afghan forces can actually reach that level of 352,000 because they’re not there now. They’re at around 330,000, to our understanding.

And to Chief Executive Abdullah, could you please give us a sense of what your thoughts are about post-2017 and whether or not you think a U.S. Embassy presence will be enough?

And for Secretaries Carter and Kerry – I don’t know who – which one of you would like to take this, but could you – do you share Afghanistan’s concerns about the extent of a threat from the Islamic State? And if so, what does that say to you about the need for counterterrorism forces – a stable number of counterterrorism forces in this year and next year, at least? Thank you.

PRESIDENT GHANI: Thank you. First of all, the numbers reflect quality. During the last four years, the investment in the Afghan Security Forces has resulted in a force of quality. Our special forces are second to none in the region, and I’d like to thank their counterparts for that immense investment. The Afghan army is profoundly changed. I had the honor of leading the security transition, so I’ve known every corps and every police – provincial police-level issue.

Our force is always dynamic. We are shifting from an emphasis on quantity to one of quality. As the conditions change, we will be viewing and reviewing actively. What is critical at this moment with the train, advise, assist mission is on the one hand, to focus on training, leadership, and an orderly change. We are very pleased that during the government of national unity, we’ve renewed the leadership of the Afghan National Army to a significant degree. Sixty-two of our senior generals retired, and this is bringing about a massive mobility of officers, and we are reviewing this process.

Second is to build systems, procedures, processes where full accountability and transparency in the use of resources can be dealt with. I’m confident that we are pursuing the right strategy. We Afghans for 5,000 years have defended our country. The last 12 years were a rare exception within our history. With the advise, support – with the train, advise, and support mission, we are confident that we will be able to fulfill the goals that the constitution specifies and the desires that our people expect from us.

But again, let me re-emphasize our partnership with the United States is multidimensional, and to reduce it to a single number will miss the larger point. And it’s that enduring partnership that has been reaffirmed today and will be again reaffirmed with our discussions with President of the United States and then with the opportunity that I would have to address the Congress of the United States and the people of the United States.

CEO ABDULLAH: And in regards to your question, already President Ghani mentioned the view of the unity government about the parameters of cooperation between the United States and Afghanistan on the basis of a strategic partnership agreement is in strengthening enduring partnership, which is a multifaceted partnership. So that’s very clear in our part, that – but we are committed – both sides are committed on continued partnership for the sake of common goals in our part of the world. So there is nothing that I can add. There is a unified position on this, like in many other national security interests, so --

SECRETARY KERRY: Secretary Carter may want to give a more granular answer, but just in general terms, we’re concerned about reports of the spread of any terrorist organization, but especially one whose actions are as barbaric and brutal as ISIL. And we have seen some reports that it has attempted to try to do some recruiting and perhaps some Taliban rebranding themselves as ISIL. But this is going to take a period of time to really evaluate and determine what the prospects are for it, if there are any. And we will continue to maintain a counterterrorism platform in Afghanistan focused, obviously, on al-Qaida at this moment. But as things develop, we will have the ability to continue to assist the Afghan forces to provide the security that President Ghani has promised and that the people of Afghanistan expect.

Do you want to answer?

SECRETARY CARTER: (Off-mike.)

MODERATOR: The last question, Lotfullah Najafizada, Tolo TV.

QUESTION: Lotfullah Najafizada from Tolo TV. Mr. Secretary, you talked about the ultimate price the U.S. forces paid in Afghanistan. I would like to ask whether the Taliban is or at some stage was an enemy to the United States.

Mr. President, do you still expect any face-to-face negotiations with the Taliban to happen within weeks? Thank you.

SECRETARY KERRY: Well, as you may recall, in the walk-up to the military actions that took place as a consequence of 9/11, President Bush could not have been more clear and his security team could not have been more clear to the Taliban in their request for assistance in dealing with al-Qaida, Usama bin Ladin, and the ungoverned spaces. That was repeatedly refused, and so ultimately President Bush made the determination to do what he had to do in order to protect the United States and the rest of the world from this terrorist organization and to deal with the aftermath of the egregious attack that took place against the United States of America from Afghan soil. So the Taliban did not cooperate, and the president made it clear at the time that if they didn’t decide to cooperate, they would be aligning themselves with that terrorist organization and with the attack against the United States of America, and the rest is history.

Now, if the Taliban, again, as I said, want to be part of the political process and the future of Afghanistan in a peaceful and acceptable way according to the norms and international values and standards of governance, they are invited to do so by this president, who has set his terms for that negotiation. And as I said a few minutes ago, we hope they will decide to do so. But if they don’t, we will continue to defend our interests with respect to counterterrorism and to assist the people of Afghanistan with their aspirations for peace and stability.

PRESIDENT GHANI: Sustainable peace is our goal. I’m not committing to any announcements till the announcement is made, and you will be pleased when it’s made. (Laughter.)

MS. PSAKI: Thank you, everyone.

SECRETARY KERRY: Thank you all very much. (Applause.) Very well done. Thank you.