Gates, Wardak open first Afghan, US security forum
WASHINGTON (PAN): US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his Afghan counterpart, Abdul Rahim Wardak, held their first meetings as part of the inaugural US-Afghanistan Security Consultation Forum at the Pentagon on Wednesday.
The talks focused on bilateral and regional security issues, particularly the transition of security responsibility to Afghan forces by 2014.
Gates and Wardak were joined by the Afghan interior minister, Besmillah Khan Mohammadi, the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy and Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright, among others.
The meeting reviewed the security gains across Afghanistan in 2010, particularly in Helmand and Kandahar provinces, where a surge of Afghan and international security forces has improved security and given Afghans greater freedom of movement, commerce and development, the Pentagon said.
Talks also focused on how to build on those gains throughout 2011, particularly in support of the beginning of the transition process; a process aimed to achieve the goal of Afghan leadership in security throughout the entire country by the end of 2014.
Gates and the Afghan ministers also discussed the progress that has been made during the past year in expanding the Afghan security forces by more than 70,000 and in improving the quality of those forces.
Gates termed the forum an important milestone in the US-Afghan relationship.
“The relationship the United States has with Afghanistan joins two countries with vastly different historical and cultural characters. The relationship we've built over the past 10 years with Afghanistan is one bonded in the blood of our sons and daughters that we have lost in the fight against a common enemy in hope for a better future,” Gates said.
Gates said he saw three ways in which the forum could contribute to the providing important strategic direction to the US-Afghan relationship.
“First, by establishing shared expectations for our defence relationship through the transition and under a strategic partnership. Second, that we'll be able to set specific goals and objectives for how we develop our bilateral defence relationship and how we gauge our progress.
“Third, demonstrate to others in the region and to our own people in concrete terms that together we are putting Afghanistan on a path towards stability and security and that our shared commitment to that effort and to Afghanistan's future growth and development is enduring,” Gates said.
Wardak said Afghanistan would need the help of the US beyond 2014.
“We do strongly believe that for Afghanistan to be able to survive on that very volatile region, it will need your help beyond 2014. And that's why we hope that the genuine and deep-rooted ties of friendship and cooperation will be further strengthened in the form of building upon this enduring strategic partnership which has been there to further improve and strengthen it in the future as we go forward,” the minister said.
Wardak and Mohammadi are in Washington for talks with their American counterparts that are expected to continue until Friday. The two ministers are also to address a number of think tanks based in Washington.
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