SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: Good morning, President Ghani, it’s an honor to welcome you to the Pentagon. I am truly grateful for the warm hospitality that you showed me in Kabul a few months ago, and I’m very glad to — to greet you here in Washington. So thanks to you and your entire delegation, sir, for making the trip here.
Let me also thank you, Your — Your Excellency, for your leadership in all your efforts during this historic time for Afghanistan. I’d like to stress again right out from the outset that the Department of Defense is deeply invested in the security and stability of Afghanistan and in the — the pursuit of a negotiated settlement that ends the war. And let me reaffirm America’s commitment to an enduring partnership with Afghanistan, especially our strong defense relationship.
I also want to acknowledge the shared sacrifices of both the U.S. and Afghan forces. You know, back when I was in uniform, Mr. President, I was in Afghanistan when we helped to stand up the very first battalion of Afghan Security Forces. In battle after battle, year after year, American and Afghan soldiers have fought side by side in common purpose, and many of them have paid the ultimate price. These brave men and women have made possible important economic, social and political progress, and we cannot ever thank them for their families — them and their families — enough for what they have given.
Now, as I made clear back in April when we announced our decision in Brussels, the United States remains committed to continuing to provide critical security assistance to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces. I am confident that as Resolute Support begins to wind down, we will make the transition to a new relationship with Afghanistan and the Afghan forces, one that continues to help you meet your responsibilities to your citizens, and we will remain partners with the Afghan government and the Afghan military, and we will continue to work toward our common goal in — in new and different ways.
Again, sir, thank you for being here, and I look forward to our discussion today.
AFGHAN PRESIDENT MOHAMMAD ASHRAF GHANI: Mr. Secretary and your distinguished team, let me first — of course, you know, Dr. Abdullah, the chairman of the High Council; Vice President Saleh; National Security Advisor Dr. Mohib; Minister of Foreign Affairs Atmar; and Ambassador Rahmani, our ambassador to the United States.
Let me first pay tribute to the 2,448 Americans who paid the ultimate sacrifice for your security and our freedom, and let me thank over a million men and women in uniform, generals, your distinguished self, officers, men and women who have served in Afghanistan with honor and distinction.
Last night, I had a meeting with the veterans and with some of the members of the Gold Star families. My request to you and to the distinguished men in uniform is to please convey our deepest thanks and gratitude to these heroes. What together we have created, and particularly on behalf of the Afghan Security Forces, thank you for acknowledging our sacrifice. We have to. You had the choice, but your choice was the right one, and the move — the words of General Kelly regarding his son who died in Helmand has been among the most moving words that I’ve read. So please convey our deepest thanks and gratitude. You represent an extraordinary, honorable tradition. You’ve been there from the foundation stone with the first division through the thick and thin of this to the CENTCOM. Again, I had the honor of meeting you — with you and working with you and now as the Secretary of Defense.
The decision in April, I think, is a strategic decision that changes the calculus of everybody and the need for shifting from war to peace. I think the implications of this are profound, and we are here to discuss how to make that a joint success.
I’ve been speaking to Congress — my colleagues and I have been speaking to Congress and to others. We — we expected this issue and our joint call is that our success is a joint success. Because of the — the transition to a new partnership is crucial. Defining this partnership in a manner that serves us always our mutual interests based on mutual respect and mutual trust is crucial, and we trust the Secretary, your words and those of the President that Afghanistan is entering into a new phase of partnership.
The false narrative of abandonment is just false. We have a lot together, and together, we will accomplish. On our side, please understand that our determination as a nation, as a public, for you — we have our 1861 moment. When President Lincoln entered Washington besieged, seemed isolated, and — and on the verge of an actual war, but his approach of unity, team of rivals, finding his Grant and Sherman, worked. Success ultimately saved the republic that under the threat. Afghanistan has a similar approach. The republic is strong roots and support but I’m sure together, we’ll be able to. The difference was that President Lincoln didn’t have foreign international support. We do, and we count on you — in terms of that.
Our issues are now operational, and issues over the horizon. They are not issues of principle; they are issues of process, and I’ve explained to distinguished members of Congress we’re very gratified by the support, bipartisan support, but we have assured them that they should not be over-worried.
The situation, of course, presents challenges, but today, between the morning when we were discussing the openness of the northern routes, and now, the road to Puli Khumri has been opened by our forces, significant progress has been made. The will and the capacities is there. It’s the question of making sure that in the discussions that we have with you, we get the operational issues right.
May I ask Dr. Abdullah to say some words?
DR. ABDULLAH ABDULLAH: Mr. Secretary, distinguished colleagues, it’s an honor to meeting you again — to meet you again — and to thank you for your continued support and leadership, the support of the people’s security and stability in Afghanistan.
I also had the honor of meeting you in Kabul, meeting you in CENTCOM and when you were picked by President Biden for this job. I thought that because in CENTCOM, there was an opportunity to talk on much broader security issues, but your experience and background in Afghanistan with your experience and leadership here, making this transition and materializing it in a way that our common interest is preserved, and the enemies of us and enemies of peace and stability, which are terrorist groups, are not taking advantage of this, and then how to work together to stabilize the situation so the efforts in support of peace also bring fruits to the people of Afghanistan.
And I also join the President in remembering the fallen and honor — honor their memories and also expressing our gratitude for those who have served in Afghanistan, hundreds of thousands of people. It — it has made a big difference in our part of the world, in our people — in the lives of our people.
And yesterday the main question from the veterans was that “Are our sacrifices or our families’ in vain?” which the answer and very clear response in answer to that was no. First, you have dealt with an enemy which would have hit us much harder, had it not been dealt with the way it was done in Afghanistan, which was also as a result of common sacrifices.
In the second, the changes in the lives of the people of Afghanistan, which has occurred. These are permanent. Today, of course, perhaps those who are fighting against us, they think that there is an opportunity and they might be able to take advantage of this, but I’m sure with the resolve of the Afghan people, leadership there and also unity in the department and also the continuing commitment of our partners — the United States as lead partner in the announcement of the invitation by President Biden to our team, to the President and us altogether — to express that commitment and also the opportunity to have, with all of you here, to talk about the work ahead of us in the new chapter that will turn it into a common success. I’m sure about that.
SEC. AUSTIN: Thank you, Dr. Abdullah, and — and thank you. So we’ll go ahead and — and transition to —
QUESTION FROM REPORTER: Mr. President, can we ask you about the intelligence report that your government may not survive six months after U.S. withdrawal?
PRESIDENT GHANI: There have been many such predictions, and they’ve all turned out false.