23 Mar 15. Defense Secretary Ash Carter and Secretary of State John Kerry announced new funding and initiatives to strengthen a renewed U.S.-Afghanistan partnership after meeting today with Afghan leaders at the Camp David presidential retreat.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah participated in a series of meetings with President Barack Obama’s national security team to discuss developments in NATO’s train, advise and assist mission, counterterrorism, and Afghanistan’s long-term security objectives.
Joining Carter and Kerry at the formally named Naval Support Facility-Thurmont in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountain Park were Treasury Secretary Jack Lew, CIA Director John E. Brennan, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper, and others.
“As many of you know, I saw President Ghani and Dr. 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,” Carter said during a news conference after the Camp David meetings.
Progress and Challenges
Today the leaders continued the discussion on progress made and challenges facing Afghan forces as they prepare for the coming fighting season and beyond, Carter said.
“Being here with Secretary Kerry and Secretary Lew puts Afghanistan’s security challenges in the broader context of its political and economic development,” Carter noted, adding that Ghani himself says the U.S.-Afghan relationship is defined by the partnership’s comprehensive nature, not by numbers of troops.
Carter said that Obama has been 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.”
Ghani and Abdullah will meet with Obama tomorrow at the White House.
As what he called one part of the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan, Carter announced that the Defense Department will seek funding for Afghan forces to sustain an end strength of 352,000 through 2017.
Ensuring Lasting Security Gains
“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,” the secretary added.
After a three-year interruption, the U.S.-Afghanistan Security Consultative Forum will be reinstated, Carter said, led by DoD along with the Afghan ministries of defense and interior.
In Kerry’s remarks at the press conference, he said the U.S. and Afghan delegations held three separate sessions on security; issues of reconciliation and regional cooperation; and economic matters.
“The depth of our discussions today reflects the critical nature of this moment,” he said, “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.”
A New Development Partnership
Kerry also announced 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,” he said.
The partnership, Kerry added, will promote Afghan self-reliance by using up to $800 million in U.S. aid to encourage and measure Afghan-led reform and development activities and strengthen Afghan institutions’ sustainability and fiscal transparency.
Also in the discussion, Kerry said, the leaders committed to forming an energy working group that will focus on synergies of the regional energy market.
Ghani, in his remarks, welcomed the energy initiative, which he described as “the difference between the Afghanistan of today and the Afghanistan of the future.”
The Afghanistan of the Future
The initiative, he said, will turn Afghanistan into a hub where energy from Central Asia, and increasingly generated from Afghanistan, will flow into south Asia.
“It would make the dream of Asian integration a reality,” Ghani said, “and I look very much forward to working with you.”
The Afghan president also expressed appreciation for Carter’s announcement that DoD will seek funding to bolster Afghan forces through 2017.
“This is a major statement of support,” Ghani said. “Our armed forces and 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.”
Ghani said that he, Abdullah and their colleagues were privileged to engage in discussions at Camp David that characterized discussions among enduring partners.
He also told a story about a 1956 Afghanistan visit by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who named Camp David after his grandson.
“I was 10 years old when President Eisenhower visited Afghanistan,” he said.
All the schoolchildren lined up to greet the president of the United States, he recalled, and what impressed them most was that Eisenhower chose to ride in an open car. None of the other heads of state who visited Afghanistan would show their faces to the public or stand in open cars, the Afghan president noted.
“That openness is what has characterized the American attitude to life, to politics and to engagement,” Ghani said.
An Enduring Phenomenon
The Afghan government of national unity is an enduring phenomenon, he added, and a key characteristic is its honesty in dealing with its inherited balance sheet.
“We have had accomplishments but we also have inherited corruption, impunity regarding rule of law, gender disparities, disparities between rich and poor, and enduring poverty,” he said, adding that 36 percent of the Afghan population lives under the poverty line.
“Our determination is to make sure that our people live not just in peace but with dignity and prosperity,” Ghani said.
“So I welcome the new developmental framework,” he added, “because this is a framework that will incentivize the Afghan public and the Afghan government to put our house in order.”
(Follow Cheryl Pellerin on Twitter @PellerinDoDNews)