Following a bilateral meeting with President Karzai, US Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta appeared at a joint news conference and said that Afghanistan should not doubt US resolve to continue to help Afghanistan and said his country is committed for long haul.
He called the challenges as long-term as they were engaged in a war, but made it clear that the US will be there for long-term as well. "let me assure you that the commitment of the United States and the international community to Afghanistan is not just in the short term, but in the long term. Just as the strategic partnership agreement signed by President Obama and President Karzai made clear, America will not turn away from Afghanistan. We will continue to have an enduring presence beyond 2014 into the future." he added.
On the speculations that the US was departing from Afghanistan, Secretary Panetta said, "We have learned the lessons of history. Our two governments are now working together on a bilateral security agreement that will establish the terms for our long-term security presence, to include a joint agreement on that enduring presence that I discussed."
He also repeated a formal invitation that he said the United States has issued to President Karzai from President Obama to meet in Washington early January to discuss a shared vision of Afghanistan beyond 2014, and said they ook forward to his coming to Washington.
Panetta said, "I want to strongly reaffirm that the United States supports the aspirations of the people of Afghanistan to fully secure and govern themselves. Indeed, that shared goal is what we are all working for and fighting together to achieve, alongside forces from 49 other nations. "
He praised President Karzai as a capable leader and said, "The United States has an enduring respect for his commitment to lead this proud and sovereign nation out of decades of war, now almost approaching 11 years of war, and before that -- many more years of war, and toward a peaceful and prosperous future for the Afghan people. That's what the Afghan people want and that's what the Afghan people deserve."
Also in the conference, President Karzai welcomed Secretary Panetta to Afghanistan and called him a good friend with whom many issues of mutual interest including the need for stronger afghan force and the transfer of prisoners were discussed in a spirit of friendship.
In response to a question on the need to remove the safe havens that terrorists enjoy on Pakistani side of the border, Secretary Panetta said, " I think it is very important for the international community, for Afghanistan, for the United States to continue to put pressure on Pakistan to ensure that it does everything possible to eliminate those safe havens for terrorism on that side of the border.
We’re not departing Afghanistan. We are going to maintain an enduring presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014. We'll be drawing down our forces. Obviously, the Afghan army will assume full responsibility for the security of the country. But we will be there to provide support, to provide training, to provide assistance, to provide help on counterterrorism, and to provide support for the forces that are here. So we will be maintaining an enduring presence here.
We have made clear that one of the threats to peace in Afghanistan is the threat that comes from the safe havens across the border in Pakistan. We have continued to make clear to the Pakistanis that they have a responsibility to deal with terrorism on their side of the border."
Answering a question on the issue of immunity to US troops, President Karzai said, he understands that immunity from Afghan laws for those remaining Americans is of "immense importance" to Washington, but he added that he has his own conditions. "Give us a good army, a good air force and a capability to project Afghan interests in the region," Karzai said, and then he would be ready to argue "with ease and with reason"
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