Remarks to the Press in Ottawa, CanadaRichard A. Boucher, Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs
December 15, 2006
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Thanks for coming. It's good to talk to you. It's nice to be back in Ottawa -- I think it was last year about June. I come up periodically to talk to my Canadian colleagues.
I'm responsible at the State Department for a region that extends from India all the way up to Kazakhstan -- South and Central Asia put together. And indeed, Afghanistan is sort of a strategic lynchpin of this region. And stabilizing and opening and developing Afghanistan is a key, I would say historic, change for the whole region. But it's also a key, obviously, in the war against terrorism -- in preventing us from being prey ever again to the kind of terrorism that we saw coming out of Afghanistan. It's an important mission to us and it's an important mission to Canada. It is UN-mandated and NATO-led. So it's one that we and our other allies share together, along with a number of other countries who've come forward.
In all my meetings, I've tried to express my respect and my admiration for the Canadian stance on Afghanistan and particularly for the Canadian soldiers who are doing a very tough job in a very tough part of the country. And I think we have enormous admiration for them, and respect, and we cooperate very, very closely with the Canadian government in all manner of reviewing and planning to make sure that we're doing what we can to support you and you're doing what you can to support us and that we all contribute to this NATO mission.
Every meeting I've had today with my counterparts, principally in the Foreign Ministry but also at the expeditionary forces and Privy Council, was an inter-agency mission meeting, meaning that different parts of the Canadian government were together. Indeed, as they work this together it's very similar to the way we do. I think it reflects the basic approach to the situation that the military activity, the extension of government in Afghanistan, and development need to be coordinated and linked up. And that everything we do, whether it's military action or building a dam, needs to be linked up with the other pieces.
That kind of coordinated approach is one that we have emphasized ourselves and one that's shared clearly by the Canadian government in what they do. That's the concept that we in NATO, I think, have operated under. And in terms of how we've been approaching this -- the issues in Afghanistan, the challenges of the Taliban there -- it's how…we're looking at how can we do this in a better coordinated fashion, between the military, the governance, and the development sides of things -- and how can we do it more broadly and more effectively around the country.
As we've been reviewing these issues and looking at them ourselves, it was important to me to hear from Canadian colleagues about their thoughts and their ideas and hear their suggestions about how we go forward. I'm left after a pretty intense day of discussions with a strong feeling we're partners here in a very vital cause that's important to all of us. We're certainly proud to be with you and our other NATO allies in Afghanistan. And we think that the mission that we're all accomplishing, from fighting the Taliban to trying to reconstruct the country and stabilize it, is one that remains a vital mission to us and a strategic mission for all of us in terms of how the world defines peace in the future.
So, I appreciate the chance to come up here. It's always fascinating to me to hear a slightly different perspective, but also some of the same thoughts expressed and implemented in a slightly different way.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask you about the meaning of the new NATO offensive in Afghanistan. You know, when you talk about national reconstruction works -- and here in Canada that’s the top message lately -- and how's that going to affect the final outcome, can you talk about a little bit about why this was launched here at this time and what in means in terms of a long-term strategy?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, I think on specific military operations I really do leave that to the military to talk about. But let me talk about sort of the concepts here that you need to be able to conduct. You need to be able to build roads; you need to be able to fix dams; you need to be able to build schools and let the kids go to school in safety.
When you're fighting an enemy that likes to attack schools and kill teachers in front of the students, or an enemy that goes into areas and helps people plant poppy, or an enemy that rules by murder and intimidation, you need to be able to open up and create the conditions where better governments can go in, where the government can be there to provide safety in the form of police or justice or economic opportunity and roads and electricity.
And so these are all parts of a whole. You can't give up parts of the country. The whole issue is extending this governance, extending the benefits of government to the far reaches of the territory. So you have to conduct military operations. But you have to follow those military operations with governance and the benefits of government, economic opportunity.
QUESTION: Can you talk about whether the progress is adequate, how you see it, just kind of in terms of the Afghan security forces behavior? Is the problem training, or motivation, or something else?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, actually, if you read the report…
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: …as opposed to the reports about the report…
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: -- and the report is available online, so you can see it -- it says actually that this is a well-organized, well-run, well-implemented police training program; that in order to sustain itself over the long term, it needs a better framework of institutionalization, meaning you have to create not just policemen but you have to create a personnel system and a pay system and a -- sort of the whole network, communications links and other things that will support a police force throughout the country.
And the report pointed to some things that we need to do. And indeed, we saw the report months ago and we've already started to put the money in the pipeline and do some of those things. So it's something we're already taking action on. But it said basically the program is good.
The police, I think, have proven one of the more difficult areas. I've been to police training centers where the basic training is very basic. 70-80 percent of the recruits are illiterate. So it's more than a 6-week course that people need. Organizing the police, that other sort of institution of policing, is another critical area that we're getting at now. So, I think you'll see it develop slowly but steadily from now on.
Starting with our budget last year, we put another billion dollars into the training and equipping of the police. And as we reviewed budgets and operations over the course of the summer, we decided we need to put still more money into expanding the capabilities of the police -- because if you go back to this basic concept of military operations followed by the extension of government and the economic benefits, you need the police in there pretty quickly to provide security. And so, we are making this a real priority.
And I have to say -- I've been in Europe recently, I was in Brussels last week -- the Europeans are concentrating on improving their performance on the police side of things as well. It's a critical factor for all of us because it plays that role right after military operations of providing security to the people.
QUESTION: Given that this approach has taken so long to build up operational capability due to various challenges, you mentioned illiteracy, then training, what are the challenges in terms of bringing the police force along or getting it to a professional level in terms of actually providing security?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I think, you know, first of all it varies from place to place in Afghanistan. And it's gone better in some places than others. It's really just a question of scope and size. You can't train 60,000 people all at once. I'm not sure, you know, that some of the activities, some of the training was deep enough, wide enough, to begin with. But you always face this kind conflicting demand -- how do you get a cop on the beat where he's needed next week versus how do you train him to be a more effective cop, which may take a year or two? So we've had to try to balance both of those needs.
And I think one thing you have to remember is Afghanistan in all respects was one of the least developed countries in the world in the '50s, '60s and '70s. And then it went downhill for 20 years. So it shouldn't be a surprise to us that this is a big development task in training people, building systems, and the rest. And one of the problems you have with policemen is you pay them and they spend a week going home to give the paycheck to their family and coming back because they don't have a banking system.
QUESTION: You're finding that with the army as well?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We've try to fix it in the army with a banking and ATM system.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: We're going to have to fix it on the police side, too. So, there are all kinds of things like that, but you've got to keep making steady progress. And every chance you have to accelerate the progress, you have to do so. And that's where we are now. We had a budget that put another billion dollars into training and equipping the police from last year's supplemental. And that money is starting to be effective now. And I think we'll see more of that as time goes on, even greater amounts to do this right.
QUESTION: So in terms of getting where we need to go, how long do you think it will take the Afghan authorities to show some progress or show some kind of milestones to its own people and others? What's your assessment of the general level of security?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: My assessment is that there are parts of the country that are relatively safe and developing well. It doesn't mean that there's not a car bomber from time to time. But the legal economy in Afghanistan has been growing strongly. There are large parts of the country where it's safe. There are millions of students in school, boys and girls. We've already built 1500 kilometers of roads, stood up a democratic government. So a lot of things have been done well in Afghanistan.
We face more difficulty in the south where we and the Afghans have not brought effective government to all areas of the country. What we've seen is there are parts of the south and the east, even under the difficult security circumstances, where we've succeeded. And we've succeeded by conducting military operations, bringing in police and justice, and roads and electricity and jobs, and doing that in a well-coordinated fashion.
And so, you know, sort of, our conclusion is we need to do that across a much broader swath of territory. And we need to really emphasize the coordinated aspect. You can't have time lags in between parts of this.
QUESTION: Do you see a need for negotiation at all with insurgent elements or with the Taliban or whatever they actually are?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don't really. There's a reconciliation program that we think is important and needs to work.
QUESTION: So when did the reconciliation program start?
AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: Oh, it's an Afghan program that's been around for a couple of years. And it's worked in some cases. We want to see it keep working. There needs to be an opportunity for people to come in from the Taliban, to come in from the cold. And certainly people who haven't been, you know, major violators might have a role in the new society.
The people you're trying to convince are not really the Taliban. There are many in that group that are hard core that are just out to kill people, that spent years killing Afghan citizens and want their chance to kill foreigners and Afghans again. And we have to deny them that. We're going to have to fight those people.
But there's a much larger piece of the population that's looking for safety, looking for justice, and looking for economic opportunity. And the vital key is that through military operations, the police, the roads, the electricity, the jobs -- that the government and its allies provide those things to the population. If we can do that, those people will look to the government for safety, justice, and opportunity. And that's what we want to do. Those are the people we want to convince to come with us.
QUESTION: Are you concerned that Canada will withdraw troops before security is established?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: You know, Canada's decisions will be made within its own system. So I don't think I want to predict what Canada will do. What I hear from them is that certainly all the people I've talked to know why this is an important mission, understand the UN mandate, understand the NATO strategy, and are committed to fulfilling Canada's role in that mandate and strategy. And indeed, that's what I see them doing. So I won't predict political decisions in the future, but what I see now is a strong commitment to carry forward on the mission.
QUESTION: Canada does not have a large troop capacity, or a large troop presence. What do you think is the role of Canadian troops in Afghanistan? Is it just a psychological role or is it a more substantial role?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, it's a very real role, a very important role. They're in a tough part of the country and they're in one of the key areas. Kandahar has always been thought of as the home of the Taliban. It's vital for all of us, indeed, for the whole security of the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, that Kandahar not be an area where the Taliban are allowed to operate freely and hold sway. And that's what Canada's doing. Canada is trying to make it possible for this region to have the government and the development that the people there need. And I think Canada's playing a very, very important role in this militarily, in terms of governance, and in terms of economic development.
QUESTION: Germany, Italy, Spain, and others refuse to send troops to combat areas in Afghanistan.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: They agreed at the NATO Summit in Riga, all the nations agreed that they would help out when they're needed. And that's being worked out between NATO Allies, so I think we made some progress on that.
QUESTION: They agreed to send troops to fight?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, that they will send troops they have in the north when they're needed in the south, "in extremis" was the phrase; that they will go down and help in the south. So that's being worked out as necessary.
QUESTION: Lots of people and governments are quite divided on that issue. They're really not comfortable. How do you feel about that? I mean Americans have to go it alone in a lot of places. And many people want to get out and say we didn’t know what we were getting into. Is it legitimate -- is it a legitimate complaint or did everyone sort of know what they were committing to in this mission?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Well, I think the -- we all knew what the lay of the land was going to be going into this mission, but NATO mission strength is higher than the number of troops that are there. And so all we're asking of our Allies is that they help fill up the need that NATO has identified. And that's something that's very important to us.
We have as many or more troops in Afghanistan now as we did when NATO started deploying. We have over 20,000 troops in Afghanistan. We have about 12,000 committed to NATO and about another -- as many as 12,000, I'm not sure of the exact number today, in [Operation] Enduring Freedom.
So NATO is a plus in terms of the additional capabilities. And they're a very important plus because, as you've seen, NATO's deployment has permitted the government to expand development projects and government security into the south where it was very thinly represented before. And so the government is pushing out. NATO is one of the agents of that push. So that's very important.
But NATO identified a mission and a mission strength. And we have been as strong as anybody encouraging everybody to meet those needs. So it's quite legitimate to say we ought to do what we decided we needed to do.
QUESTION: So are some nations not living up to their commitments in the bargain or is it just there's flexibility built into this, or other factors?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No, I think it's not enough countries have come forward with the kind of troops that are needed. And we're going to keep pushing on that.
QUESTION: What about Pakistan? What's their strategy for dealing with terrorists? Have you been satisfied with their actions? It seems to appear like the Pakistani government is unwilling to do this.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I wouldn't say that. No, I mean we work very closely with Pakistan on all these issues. I think we all understand -- let me not speak for the other governments, let me speak for the United States -- we understand that in some ways the issue on the Pakistani side is the same as the issue on the Afghan side. It's extending government out to the edges of the country. And for a variety of historic and other reasons, Pakistan's government's authority has not held sway in the border areas. And the Taliban have been able to use these areas for sanctuary and for command and control and for regrouping and supply.
And I think it's important to understand that President Musharraf and the Pakistani government know that the Taliban is a threat to the region and to Pakistan. He's said that very clearly. They've taken action, military action and political action. They've taken action in terms of law enforcement. You've seen them talk about Taliban that they've arrested. And they've taken action on the economic front and we're helping them with that as well, to try to extend government authority but also to give a different economic opportunity to this region. And there's a new economic development plan for the border areas that we're going to be helping with and we hope others do as well.
So, it's very much something that we're going to have to do together. But we have been very clear with the Pakistani government that this is one of the key items on all our agendas -- on our own agenda, on the Pakistani agenda, the Afghan agenda. And that's why the President, when Karzai and Musharraf were in Washington in September, not only met with each of them separately to discuss these border areas but met with them together to try to say we've got to deal with this problem together. And I think there is a basic commitment to do that.
QUESTION: How do you like having a neighbor ally that's got a minority government and an opposition that sometimes isn't as enthusiastic about this mission as the government is and a public that is increasingly divided?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don't do politics.
You know, Canadians will decide their own politics, their own government. I think all I can say is this is a very important mission for all of us in NATO and even more broadly, and that we really appreciate the Canadian contribution to the mission, appreciate the approach that Canada has taken in terms of not only military activity but the extension of government and training and development activity. And the way that Canada has coordinated this, all these aspects, is frankly a good example for many others.
QUESTION: You mentioned building schools, dams and other construct and government projects. And is that the most important area to win the hearts of those who at this moment see the Taliban as somehow on their side?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don't think people really see Taliban as on their side. I think they…
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: …they're looking for, if you reduce it to basics, safety, justice, and economic opportunity. And if they don't get that from the government, they accept it from the Taliban. They've accepted, you know, a sort of rough safety, rough justice and the economic opportunity of poppy. I think it's important for us to replace that with a decent police force, a good justice system, roads, electricity, and real economic opportunity. And I think that's what people want in the end. And if the government delivers those things, I think we'll have no problem getting the population on our side.
We do a lot of training of Afghans because there are so many people that are needed to run a country and develop it. There's a lot of education training. We're building roads. Roads are very important in building a national economy. And I think overwhelmingly, if you had to ask what's the most important thing we do and the most expensive thing we do, it's building roads. And we're building roads in Kandahar with our Canadian partners and others because we think that's an important part of stabilizing the province.
QUESTION: You think it's a top priority?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: A top priority, as is building an electrical system for the country. An electrical grid and generating capacity is key as well, because to move beyond agriculture into processing and industry you need electricity; you need power. And so we're doing that. Only six percent of Afghanistan is connected to a national grid now. And the projects that we have underway should bring that up to 40 percent. And then we can go beyond. So, you know, roads, electricity and training and education and all the rest. Those are probably the most important things.
QUESTION: British Foreign Office sources last week said Afghanistan's not just a military battle, it's a political battle as well.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Absolutely.
QUESTION: They said right now we need to find out how to engage people who at the moment see the Taliban as somehow on their side and we need to convince them as a whole, he said; that's why we need a reconciliation process.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Yes.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I agree. I think that's what I've been talking about. Yeah.
QUESTION: Are there any negotiations with the Taliban?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: That's different.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: What you just quoted Kim Howells as saying does not mean negotiate with the Taliban. What we're saying is what you said earlier and that is, you need to deal with local people…
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: …and give them the kind of -- give them what they expect from government, and that means local leaders, tribal groups, local populations. And give them what they expect from government. Second of all, you need to have a reconciliation process so that people who want to leave the Taliban are able to do so. But, you know, frankly, I don't see any opportunity or need to negotiate. I don't see any hard-core Taliban who are interested. If they're interested in coming across we need to have a way for them to do that.
QUESTION: He said we need to accommodate the remnants of the Taliban into the mainstream of politics. And he compared the situation in Afghanistan to that in other places and said we talk to some kinds of terrorists….
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Again, I think he's talking about the reconciliation process. But I can't explain what he said. He'll have to do that.
QUESTION: But he said bring in remnants --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I'll let him explain his remarks if they require more explanation. What I'm saying is there does need to be a reconciliation process.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: And there is one and it needs to work. But that's not the same as saying that we'll somehow divide up the territory with Taliban. That's not a solution. Okay.
QUESTION: May I have last question?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Sure.
QUESTION: Can you compare the situation in Iraq to that in Afghanistan?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: No.
Because it's different.
QUESTION: And how different?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: It's a different place; it's a different society; it's a different history. And I think in some ways, you know, the task is at a different stage. What I said before was that Afghanistan is very much about construction. It's very much establishing security, building government, and building the economy.
QUESTION: You think the security in Afghanistan is much better than what's in Iraq?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I don't do comparisons. I mean honestly I just think they're different, you know. And so the task in Afghanistan is one of building security, building governance, and building the economy. And we have the opportunity to do that. And we should do it.
QUESTION: Is the security in the schools a top priority?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: I've said all these things -- roads, electricity, training -- and there's plenty of other things to go with it.
QUESTION: Compared to security, which is more important?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: You can't do one without the other. You can't do these things without a secure environment. You can't stabilize a secure environment without economic development. That's why what we're doing things in terms of coordination, what Canada is doing in terms of coordination, is probably the key.
QUESTION: Is it, can we call it a new strategy?
AMBASSADOR BOUCHER: No, I think it's the NATO strategy. We just have to constantly look at how we can do better in carrying out and how we can do it more. Okay?
QUESTION: Okay. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Thank you.
QUESTION: Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY BOUCHER: Okay. Thanks a lot. It's good to meet you.
Released on December 26, 2006