By Claudette Roulo
Afghan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani welcomes Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel with an honor cordon at the presidential palace in Kabul DoD photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz
The Afghanistan drawdown and the situation in Iraq when U.S. troops left that country in 2011 are poles apart, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said yesterday.
“We left Iraq under totally different circumstances,” the secretary told reporters during a visit to Forward Operating Base Gamberi in Afghanistan’s Laghman province.
The current transition in Afghanistan is taking place with the agreement and the invitation of the Afghan people and the Afghan government, Hagel said.
“This is a transition with our closest 50 partners over the next two years after we continue to help the Afghans build their capacity, build out that capability, build their institutions, train, assist and advise,” he added. “That’s totally different than how we left Iraq.”
The Transition Mission
During 2016 — the second year of the transition in Afghanistan — the role of coalition troops will be to work themselves out of a job, Hagel said. “That’s the whole point of this,” he added.
When the drawdown concludes, it will mark 15 years of active U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, the secretary said. “Thirteen of those have been combat roles. The last two have been train, assist, advise and working through this,” Hagel noted.
“So I see it as a fundamentally different set of dynamics here,” he said. “It’s planning, it’s training [and] it’s transitioning. It’s an agreement with everybody knowing what the objectives are every month as we transition out and help build their capacity.”
The Plan Remains the Same
The drawdown plan and bilateral security agreement are unchanged despite a change in government earlier this year, the defense secretary said. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his opponent Abdullah Abdullah formed a new unity government in September, which approved the agreement shortly thereafter.
Ghani’s predecessor, Hamid Karzai supported the bilateral security agreement, even as the government was transitioning, Hagel told reporters, noting that Karzai endorsed the pact at a national assembly of local Afghan elders and leaders.
“As that transition went forward,” he said, “President Karzai took the bilateral security agreement to the Loya Jirga that he called, and endorsed it to the Loya Jirga. … So there’s no shift just because … one government wants to change it and the other one doesn’t — not at all. There’s no shift in that.”
Afghan Military Participation
The Afghan military helped to write the plan, Hagel said.
“And they understand it better than anybody,” he added, “because they want to have the capability to be able to do on their own without us having that constant, ‘We’re the backup, call us in.'”
This year’s Afghan presidential elections demonstrate the existing capability of the country’s forces, the defense secretary said. The Taliban and al-Qaida announced they would do everything they could to disrupt the vote, he said, but “the Afghan security forces independently assured those elections.”
“I think that’s a pretty significant testament to the capability of the Afghan Security Forces and the people of Afghanistan wanting this to go forward,” Hagel said.