Scene Setter for The London Conference on Afghanistan - January 31-February 1, 2006Ambassador Ronald Neumann, U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan
Foreign Press Center Briefing
January 27, 2006
2:22 P.M. EST
MR. BAILY: Good afternoon and welcome to the Foreign Press Center. We're pleased to welcome this afternoon Ambassador Ronald Neumann, the U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan. He will be talking today on next week's conference on Afghanistan taking place in London. Ambassador Neumann's on a tight schedule, so he'll make a few comments and then be happy to answer your questions for about 25-30 minutes. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR NEUMANN: Thank you. Let me try not to take too much time on initial comments, so we can get straight to questions. But let me just give you a little context on London. I think it's important to understand that the London conference is happening as a result of success. It is -- in Bonn, a international roadmap that is designed for the Afghan political process. And that roadmap has been accomplished: elections, the constitution, the election of a parliament, the president. And that has all been a success, but the result of that success is that we've run off the map. And so since there is still a lot to do in Afghanistan, in terms of building a stable government and a country that will not fall back into anarchy, it's necessary to have a new roadmap.
And what the London conference is going to do is to put that in place. And I think there are sort of a few key points that are worth noting, as you look at London. One is -- obviously, will be the dollar figures. I don't know what they'll be, but I'm sure that there will be a continued substantial commitment of aid to Afghanistan. And that is not only American effort, although we are very big in it unquestionably, but the EU both as an institution and in its composite members are some fairly important players in the aid in Afghanistan. The UN has been very important in organizing the effort. Japan has been a major participant in Afghanistan, both in the aid it has provided, but also in the involvement and the very leading role that Japan took in the disarmament process of the major militia groups and the role that Japan continues to play as we move forward to what is called the disarmament of illegal armed groups. So there are a number of players.
The Afghan Government is much more real and organized than it was in Bonn. You have a real Afghan Government now. And I think one of the things that is important is that they have played the leading role, albeit with a lot of foreign technical aid, but they have taken the lead in making the decisions and judgments that are part of the Afghan National Development Strategy.
Now, first thing I said was dollar figures, but I don't think that is actually the most important part of what's going to happen in London. I think the most important part is that it is a compact -- or will be a compact, come Tuesday -- between the Afghan Government and the international community in which the Afghan Government is committing itself to a broad variety of steps for the next five years and continuing a vision of reform and rebuilding and the international community is committing itself to remain supported. I think this is very important in avoiding donor fatigue. It is extremely important in terms of having us all on a common direction, so that rather than spending a lot of time arguing or discussing what one ought to be doing, the discussion is about how you do the next step. That makes a huge difference.
There are two really important pieces of the document itself, which will have a cover and probably three annexes. One annex is a list of timelines and benchmarks which lay out a lot of intermediate steps for the next five years what is to be done in a broad variety of areas: economic reform, social change, governance, justice, security. Some of these are projects where the foreign community will have to play a large role. And the resources, many of them, are very tough political steps that the Afghan Government will need to take as it continues to get on top of corruption and move forward in developing a government in the provinces which is really sound and rooted.
The third part, which may sound a little technical but it's extremely important, is the creation of a donors coordinating and monitoring mechanism, which is essentially a political coordinating group in Kabul to both ensure that aid is better utilized, that we have fewer duplications or unconnected pieces, which can look down and press for movement when you have a falling off and can take issues in a coordinated way up to President Karzai. That is not only an international group, but it will be co-chaired by the UN Representative and by a senior government representative of Afghanistan. So it is an advance in how one manages the aid and how one carries forward on the ground, I think that it's been broadly recognized at least by ambassadors and aid directors in Kabul that there was a missing piece here, that we were able to do this often ad hoc, but we needed to do it more formally and have a mechanism that pushed this forward. And this has been very much designed in cooperation between the Afghan Government and the international community. It also involves World Bank, Asian Development Bank, others -- IMF that are involved there.
So those are the main pieces organizing the donor community for the next five years, staking out timelines and benchmarks on critical reforms, political commitment of the Afghan Government, a better donor coordinating mechanism, and I think it will be important to realizing our goals.
Let me just stop there so I don't keep blabbering when you'd rather talk about something else. Do you want to pick up?
MR. BAILY: If you would state your name and organization and wait for the microphone before asking your question, thank you. In the back.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, my name is Walter Kuperschuck. I work for the Dutch National Television as their correspondent. Thank you for taking time, by the way, to talk to us.
You're probably aware of the fact that in The Netherlands there is a big debate going on about --
AMBASSADOR NEUMANN: It has crossed my consciousness.
QUESTION: True, yes. To the problems of Uruzgan. You've been there yourself and the debate is about the fact whether it's too dangerous to send troops. Would you consider it a mistake in general if a country doesn't send troops because it is too dangerous?
AMBASSADOR NEUMANN: Well, this is a decision which obviously is a Dutch decision to make. There is a NATO decision to go and expand the role in Afghanistan. I think it is very important that NATO members uphold that decision, and as you know, Canada and Britain will both be expanding their presence in Kandahar and Helmond Provinces, which I would consider somewhat rougher than Uruzgan.
If a country doesn't go, obviously that causes problems, but NATO is a large organization and I think that the NATO commitment will stand and somehow the hole will be filled by us or by others. We're still a part of NATO, too.
It is also important that if Holland decides, for its own reasons, to go and sustain this commitment that it goes prepared to fully sustain it, because the task of NATO in the south is going to be, as it is in other parts of the country, a task of providing sufficient security to grow government institutions. And security and economic development are both parts of that, but this is not a peacekeeping mission in the traditional sense. It is, I think, an extraordinarily important mission and it is one where the peacekeeping and the security parts and the economic parts find their long-term value in building the government in the country and building stability around that government and in people's loyalty to it.
So if one goes, it's important that one take on the full mission. Holland certainly has very capable soldiers. You have some troops that are there now that have been doing an excellent job. You know, we all hope the decision will be affirmative but recognize that it is yours to make. I would only encourage that one make either the whole -- make the whole decision.
QUESTION: Can I ask one follow-up question about this, please?
AMBASSADOR NEUMANN: Yes.
QUESTION: Thank you. How dangerous is this province, in your assessment, and could you tell us a little bit more about this (inaudible) maybe even a fighting mission more than a peacekeeping mission?
AMBASSADOR NEUMANN: It is certainly not a peacekeeping mission. Let's be clear about our terms. Peacekeeping has historically been used to mean the putting in of a military force in a situation where contending parties have agreed to some kind of solution or ceasefire or something and the peacekeeping task is to monitor and implement that. Now, clearly, when you have a force that's carrying out an active insurgency, that's not peacekeeping.
How violent is Uruzgan? Well, there is periodic fighting in Uruzgan. We do the mission there with a couple of special forces outfits that are probably -- well, let me just say substantially smaller than the contingent that you would send if you take on the mission. We maintain a PRT there. I was just down there talking to our people who maintain a variety of projects. We will have more ongoing.
I would expect that NATO as a whole, not just the Dutch, will be challenged by the Taliban. The fact that there has been a lively debate in the press I think makes it clear to the enemy as well as to the friend that there's an issue, and they will try to work on that scene. I don't anticipate that there would be, you know, daily huge battles. That's silly. But I anticipate there would be some fighting.
I think the term of counterterrorism has confused the issue sometimes because it is not a question of you've got to go out and find, you know, some wild guy in the hills who's a terrorist. But it is a question of active patrolling and of producing a sufficiency of security that people can live secure in their homes. So it's not a question just of securing a government but of securing an area, and that requires a rather active patrolling presence with brings with it a certain number of risks, but it's not main force battle.
When one says, "How violent is it," well, you know, I spent my last 16 months in Baghdad before I went to Kabul. It looks pretty calm to me, but it's all your standard of comparison, you know. Next to Fallujah, Uruzgan looks good.
MR. BAILY: Go to Italy here, please.
QUESTION: Ambassador, Giampiero Gramaglia, Italian News Agency, ANSA. I need two basic figures, just to have an idea.
AMBASSADOR NEUMANN: Oh, I hate numbers. Okay.
QUESTION: How much of the international aid available has already been spent for the Afghan reconstruction and how much of this money has been spent for reconstruction and how much for security on reconstruction?
AMBASSADOR NEUMANN: Oh, boy, it's a fine question and I don't think I have at my fingertips the right data. Let me try to give as much context as I can but I can't really answer the dollar figure.
The majority of the aid from non-U.S. sources has gone to economic or social or justice areas. Now, there is always a security component in economic -- and if you're hiring a contractor to build something, you're probably paying a piece of that for the security, which the contractors themselves lay on. There is -- just to make it really impossible to come up with a figure, there's also the question of what governments are paying their own people, which doesn't show up as an aid figure to Afghanistan. For instance, in the case of Italy, you have the command -- what is called Regional Command West, based in Herat, where I just visited a few weeks ago. You also have a PRT, Provincial Reconstruction Team, that took over from us, that's also military run with Italian civilians, American civilians in it. It's a very good PRT. I'd like to go back.
But I don't think that your salary bill and a lot of you sustain shows up as an aid figure. With our aid -- gosh, I would have to get, maybe we can get some numbers. I don't know, Christine, do you think we can -- do we have numbers on that? We can try to get back to you. I don't have any off the top of my head. It is certainly a much -- it is a much larger percentage has gone to economic reconstruction that say -- you don't have the issue you have in Iraq, where the security cost of the program -- of securing the reconstruction has constantly gone up. We have not transferred money from civilian needs to security needs. We have a lot of dedicated money for building the army, for building the police force.
I donít know if that's helpful to you without the specific numbers. But I would say --
QUESTION: I was looking for a comparison with Iraq, in fact, because we had figures on Iraq yesterday from an official that --
AMBASSADOR NEUMANN: I don't have the figures -- we have not -- in Iraq we have had reprogrammings where we moved money from the big 18, 20 billion that we originally programmed, where we had to move money into supporting the military. We have not done that in the Afghan case to my knowledge.
MR. BAILY: We can go to Russia.
QUESTION: Pavel Vanichkin, TASS News Agency of Russia. Sir according to the Human Rights Watch, about 60 percent of the new members of the Afghan parliament have direct links to warlords, drug groups and so on and so on. Let me quote Mr. Sam Zarifi, who is the Asian division of Human Rights Watch, "How can people trust a government which allows warlords and notorious human rights abusers into power?" Could you respond to that?
AMBASSADOR NEUMANN: Sure. The Afghan parliament represents the face of modern Afghanistan. It has former military commanders. It may have some with ties to drug people. It has some very liberal people in it. It has some big reformers. I mean this is the composition of Afghan society today. There is no sort of pristine group which can suddenly spring to power and you can ignore everybody else, anymore than you can ignore any large group in any country. The nature of the evolution in Afghanistan is that you want -- obviously, when youíre talking about drugs now, there's a criminal issue that has to be cracked down on. When you're talking about warlords, that term probably hides as much as it clarifies -- you have militia commanders who are thugs and near criminals. You have militia commanders who have been resistance leaders in the terms that would be recognized by any country that has had a history of fighting oppression and resistance. Often these people were the only ones who provided security to their communities.
I don't find it terribly surprising that some of them got elected. It's also interesting how many of them did not get elected. There were a lot that ran for office and were not elected and there are people that were elected for office. There's a young woman, Malalai Girga (ph), who's pretty radical. She stood up at the constitutional loya jirga and criticized some of the leaders for being bloody-handed thugs and there were all kinds of criticism and threats to her. She won in her province with the largest number of votes and that obviously is not just the women's votes. So that is indicative to me of another constituency that is also there. There's a woman from Jalalabad who -- excellent politician reformer. Again, while the women have a number of seats that were reserved for them, you have, I think, 17 women in parliament who were elected completely in their own right. I mean, they would have been elected if there were no set-aside at all.
The question of whether you can have peace in Afghanistan is a question of whether you can bring all these different people together and bring them to a reconciliation of how to govern their country in the future. You can't do that by leaving real political forces outside. That is a piece of, to my mind, rather silly idealism that has no foundation in the real world. So the fact that they are in and cooperating, up to now, I mean, it's very early in the parliament and we'll see. So far, the first few weeks, they behaved all rather civilly to each other in the issues of electing a speaker and we haven't really gotten to real politics, so we'll find out. But you want to bring the contending influences inside. You want the debate in parliament and not in the hills with guns, and that is still something that is evolving. But overall, I find the parliament positive.
QUESTION: My name is Toshiya Umehara. I'm from Asahi Shimbun, Japanese newspaper. Ambassador, could you give your assessment on the benchmark regarding narco-economy. How soon do you expect this problem would disappear from Afghanistan?
AMBASSADOR NEUMANN: I think it's going to be a while before it disappears. The question that I'm focused on right now is whether we can continue to make progress this year as we made progress last year. Last year we did make progress. The amount of -- area under cultivation was significantly reduced. UN figures say 20 percent; ours says 48 percent, you know, take your pick. There's a very strong impulse now from President Karzai's government against the narcotics, much stronger than there was last year. There's, I think, a pretty good policy which involves both agricultural development to create alternatives for people to live, immediate eradication led by governors early on when the crop is just coming up so that people can still plant another crop and survive. There's a law enforcement element of going after, interdicting more serious traffickers. There's a new law that allows us to try people in Kabul so they can't scoot out with some local judge.
All those things I believe are going in the right direction. I will know a lot more and be able to speak with more confidence in a few months because right now the crop this year has not yet developed to a point where there's anything to eradicate. When I see how that goes, I'll have a solider feel.
I believe that the Karzai government has now accepted that it is not possible to build a stable government on a basis of corrupt money. That's the fundamental inside Afghanistan. There's a European and an external question of where drugs go, but there's -- within Afghanistan it's fundamentally an issue of corrupting the entire state system if you don't get on top of it. I believe we have the right policy. I think this is going to be really hard and really long. How long? You know, that's -- I'd be pulling a number out of the air. But I mean, I think we're talking in multiple years, that's for sure. The country has never had two years in a row when the narcotics production went down, so if it goes down again this year I will feel we're doing fairly well.
MODERATOR: We've got Turkey here.
QUESTION: Umit Enginsoy, NTV Turkey. In the event The Netherlands decides not to go there, you said NATO would be in a position to have to deal with this situation. But as the United States, would you encourage the Turks, who in the past contributed in a major way to ISAF, to accept a larger commitment to Afghanistan?
AMBASSADOR NEUMANN: Well, first of all, I don't want to get ahead of a Dutch decision which has not yet been made, we hope positively. I certainly respect the role that Turkey has played in ISAF. They've played an extremely important role. They were still in charge in Kabul when I arrived and your former Foreign Minister, Mr. Cetin, is a very valuable member of the NATO staff as well as the senior civilian representative, where he's played a very, very constructive and important role.
I think if the Dutch decision is negative, this is an issue that will have to go back to the NATO Council. I wouldn't rule anybody in or out while, you know, respecting national prerogatives. I certainly respect the role of Turkey and they've played a very important, very important part there, but I think I can't get ahead of the decision beyond that and I don't think it would be suitable to be sort of championing one party.
QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, from Voice of America. The whole purpose of gathering in Bonn was to put (inaudible) a construction, political construction first of all, plus for the real people working, known by the people, so that the basis of a very ethical administration for the first time in Afghanistan is put. Now, what happened with the parliament? And I'm following on the subject of my friend (inaudible). Do you -- can you give us an example where in other part of the world such a parliament has been put in place with the hope that they will work together and the people will pay tribute to them and respect them?
On the other hand, sir, coming to the aid of America, it is said that this year $625 or $629 million will be paid for the construction of Afghanistan, while in London --
AMBASSADOR NEUMANN: 622. I can do that figure.
QUESTION: Yes, sir. And London very soon they will be looking at the leading role of America. Now, if this amount has come from one billion or one million to 622, do you think that will give a good impulsion to the others to do something better for Afghanistan at this critical juncture?
AMBASSADOR NEUMANN: Well, we may have something to say in London as well, which I don't want to get ahead of. First, remember that the 1.2 -- people throw different figures around. There's a much larger figure when you include the military assistance, the train and equip of the Afghan National Army, of the Afghan police, and the assistance to drugs. And people, depending on whether they're trying to prove we're doing a lot or a little, cherry pick, selectively utilize those figures.
Though the $1.2 billion in aid for last year is comprised of both a regular budget allocation and a subsequent supplemental budget, we are early in the year. I don't want to say there will be a supplemental, but I would not rule it out either. So I don't know that the 622 is a final aid figure. It is also a very considerable figure. It also, I expect, will -- we are -- have not yet finished, but we are also dedicated to 100 percent removal of our debt to Afghanistan, which will also be a figure of another, probably 110 million. I think that's right. So I think we have to pay 10 percent to the budget and you can count that either way. Now I think our involvement, you know, 19,000 troops on the ground now. It may go down a bit as NATO goes up, but it'll still be 16,000 troops on the ground an active war fighting effort, a major embassy, debt removal and well over half a billion dollars which may rise. And I think that's a pretty significant commitment and I don't think there's any doubt that we are in this for the long haul. And if I had any doubt, President Bush dispelled it in our first meeting when he told me we had no doubt about it. And he was quite clear.
You had a second part.
AMBASSADOR NEUMANN: Oh, the parliament. The -- you know, I've been involved in a variety of parliaments and I've been directly involved in the Algerian -- first Algerian parliament, the first Bahraini parliament, the Iraqi parliament. I've been involved in a distance, but with responsibilities for Morocco for Yemen, for Kuwait. Every one is different. I don't think reasoning from analogy is going to tell you a lot. There was enormous Afghan support for the election of the President. There was still heavy support for the election in parliament. There is a lot of learning about what is a parliament. It's been a long -- been 30 years since they had one and it didn't produce a lot. I think the answer to the question of whether people will respond to the parliament is going to be an answer which comes largely out of parliamentary performance, that if the parliament manages to pass critical laws, if it seen to be a vehicle, a channel by which people can talk to their government, then I think it will gain respect. If it deadlocks, doesn't pass laws, it goes into endless fighting with central government and people see it as useless, then they will react accordingly. So I think this is very much going to be defined by parliament itself and it's going to be a very, very bumpy road.
MR. BAILY: Can we go to the front row, please?
AMBASSADOR NEUMANN: Yeah. We have about two minutes and then we got to go.
MR. BAILY: We have one last question -- a quick question.
QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. Denise Kimmel, CTV, Canadian Television. I just wanted to ask you, as you know and as you'd mentioned before, Canada is sending a large amount of troops in. And for us, this is the largest amount of troops that we've sent in decades to any one particular region. First of all, what sort of threat do you think you see the Canadians facing, because normally we have peacekeeping roles? And secondly, well, I'll let you answer that first.
AMBASSADOR NEUMANN: I think you will find some active operations. I was in Kandahar recently, just two months ago, actually with your ambassador. We went down together and visited with your PRT. I have political and AID officers in PRT. We talked to the American military people that are transferring over. You will have an active military operation. I believe your government has accepted that and has been pretty forthright and clear with the Canadian people. I don't see this, though, as being -- you know, this is not like daily fighting of battalion levels, but there are bombs that go off. You recently lost a very brave Foreign Service officer whom I respect in Canada. You and we continue to maintain people there. I think people need to remember why we went to Afghanistan in the first place.
The fact that Afghanistan became a state that was a locus for major terror, the fact that it had a menace to the world and the fact that whether we -- how we succeed if we do in Afghanistan will, I believe, have a major influence on the region. So yes, I think there are risks. I salute the Canadian Government and people for taking a share of that risk. And I think that the gain and the potential result of success in Afghanistan merit it.
MR. BAILY: Quick follow-up, please, then he really does have to leave.
QUESTION: Okay. What sort of role do you see Canadians as more with the PRT or what sort of role do you see Canadians?
AMBASSADOR NEUMANN: I think you -- as I understand what you are planning, I don't want to speak for your government and you just changed that anyway. But my understanding is that you will be in two roles basically, that is you have a military role coming in under NATO, taking over a portion of the Regional Command South, as well as the broader command. And that's a security military patrolling role. And you have a role of helping build the government of economic assistance, some of which is carried out in the PRT. Now you have other aid programs, as you probably know. And how your government chooses to focus its aid is a decision that I am not sure has been made finally, how much goes into the province, how much goes into national aid. You have a very active dynamic PRT, very well-led, cooperating with a number of Afghan NGOs, some really inspiring people. You should come out and visit them.
MR. BAILY: Thank you very much.
Released on January 27, 2006