Secretary Michael R. Pompeo At a Press Availability After the Afghanistan Signing Ceremony (February 29)
Nearly 19 years ago, America embarked on a noble mission to mightily pursue the terrorist perpetrators of the September 11th attacks and their evil supporters and to prevent such a heinous attack from ever happening again. We have achieved great things. We have ensured Afghanistan isn’t a haven for terrorists who can attack us, and we have bettered the lives of Afghan people, for which we are very proud.
Today, the political debate in Afghanistan is free and vigorous. Today, more than 9 million students are enrolled in school; 39 percent of them are girls. Today, more than 57 percent of Afghans have access to basic health care, compared to just 9 percent in 2002. And al-Qaida – al-Qaida today – is a shadow of its former self. We have decimated its leadership and now have the Taliban agreeing that al-Qaida must never again find safe haven in Afghanistan.
But just as Afghanistan today isn’t the Afghanistan of 2001, the world of 2020 isn’t the world of 2001 either. Today, the United States faces national security challenges that weren’t even imagined a few years ago, from Iran, from China, from Russia, and elsewhere. President Trump has recognized this new reality. He also saw that our sacrifices and gains in Afghanistan and realized the hard truth that a comprehensive, inclusive, durable peace could only be secured by the Afghan people themselves.
Today, we are realistic. We are seizing the best opportunity for peace in a generation, built on the hard work of our soldiers, diplomats, businessmen, aid workers, friends, and the Afghans themselves.
Today, we are restrained. We recognize America shouldn’t fight in perpetuity in the graveyard of empires if we can help Afghans forge peace.
And we have respect. We believe that the Afghan people are ready to chart their own course forward.
Today, following the first-ever weeklong break in fighting in nearly 19 years, I am proud to announce that the United States has secured separate commitments from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban to hold negotiations for peace.
Very importantly, the U.S.-Taliban agreement entails a promise from the Taliban that terrorists can never again operate from Afghan soil. We make no mistake; the chapter of American history on the Taliban is written in blood that killed many Americans, NATO allies, coalition partners, and many Afghans.
I am just as angry over 9/11 as I was the day I watched al-Qaida knock down the Twin Towers on TV. Our valiant service members, intelligence warriors, and world-class diplomats who have served in Kandahar and in Helmand and all over Afghanistan know firsthand what I mean. They know what I mean exactly.
And we know exactly who we’re dealing with. If the Taliban do not uphold their commitments, President Trump and his team will not hesitate to do what we must do to protect American lives.
If, on the other hand, the Taliban abide by their promises, the United States will undertake a responsible, conditions-based troop withdrawal. That withdrawal means that our men and women in uniform will incur fewer risks, our financial burden will be eased, and our brave troops will return home.
This is a hopeful moment, but it’s only the beginning. There is a great deal of hard work ahead on the diplomatic front.
Finally, let me speak directly to those invested in Afghanistan.
First, to America’s military and intelligence warriors, I know that some of you may be on your fifth or sixth tours of duty, maybe even more, far from the comforts of home. As the CIA director, it was my honor to join you in dealing blow after blow to this vicious enemy. Many of you wear black and silver bracelets in tribute to your brothers and sisters who died so that your countrymen might live in peace and security. We will not squander what they and you have won through blood, sweat, and tears. You’ve kept America safe alongside our allies and Afghan partners. You’ve helped give the people of Afghanistan this opportunity for a brighter future.
Second, to our NATO allies and other coalition partners who have sacrificed right alongside of us, we will continue to look to you and to all countries which support these agreements to help maintain this nascent peace. Whether it’s Norway or Australia or Japan or any of our other valued friends and partners, we know you share our cautious hope.
To Afghanistan’s neighbors, including Pakistan, we thank you for your efforts in helping reach these historic agreements and make clear our expectation that you will continue to do your part to promote a peaceful and prosperous Afghanistan so that the country and region can reap the benefits of lasting peace.
And to the Afghan people, this is your moment. Wars have tortured your country since 1979. No more violence. No more chaos. We’ll listen, listen to the voices of all – young and old, men and women, from every region, from every tribe, from every ethnicity, and from every religion. Factions will undoubtedly emerge that want to spoil our good work. We must call them out and reject their schemes for discord.
I’ll close by urging all parties to heed the wisdom of the pursuit of peace that’s found in Scripture: “Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies; turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.”
Today, we have sought peace. We will continue to pursue it. Thank you, and I am happy to take a few questions.
MS ORTAGUS: Thanks. We’ll start with Francesco Fontemaggi, AFP.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I wanted to know exactly what will make you stop the withdrawal if the Talibans don’t respect their agreement. Is it counterterrorism commitments, or is it the outcome of the negotiations, intra-Afghan negotiation, meaning that the timeline for the complete withdrawal is 14 months? Would they have to complete an agreement, intra-Afghan agreement by then, or just make progress in their negotiations? Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: So we’ve spent many months getting to where we are today, and there are a set of interlocking understandings, implementation agreements, that are clearly spelled out. I am confident that each party that’s been part of this – the Afghan Government, ourselves, the Taliban – understands precisely the commitments that they have made and the response – not only the response about the speed and magnitude of the withdrawal of not only American but coalition forces, but the other elements of support that the United States provide. We’ve made commitments to continue to provide that security assurances for the Afghan Government, but it is our very expectation that the Taliban will live up to their commitments.
But no one should be surprised. The United States will do whatever it takes to keep the American people safe. And so to the extent the Taliban fail to live up to their commitments, President Trump is as committed to peace as he is to ensure that the American people never suffer an attack again from Afghanistan.
MS ORTAGUS: Thanks. We’ll have Qatar TV now, Abdulla Al-Muraiki.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) I’ll just translate very quick. How do you —
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you.
QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Your Excellency, how do you assess the role of Qatar as an ally to the United States in various issues in the region and beyond?
SECRETARY POMPEO: So the nation of Qatar has been an enormously important partner to get us to this very moment. When we have hit bumps in the road, they have helped smooth them out. They have agreed to host a significant piece of the conversations that have taken place that have built out on the set of agreements that you see today. We appreciate that and we thank them.
I had a chance to meet with the Amir as well as with my counterpart today to thank them for the work that they have done as well as to make clear to them that we have every expectation they will continue to help us as we move along this path towards peace. They have been great partners in getting to this point, and we’re counting on them to continue their efforts to deliver for the Afghan people this enormous opportunity that this moment brings.
MS ORTAGUS: Thank you. Christina Ruffini, CBS News.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Secretary Esper, as everyone knows, is in Kabul signing a joint declaration with President Ghani, and I am wondering if that means that the U.S., that you recognize his election victory, because the statement that came out from the State Department said it was noted, but are you recognizing him as the president of Afghanistan going forward?
And my second question is: Why did you feel the need to be here to be present at the signing today, and why come all the way here and not sign the document yourself? Thank you, sir.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Yeah, the document was signed by the two gentlemen who had worked so diligently to execute it, who had worked tirelessly, who had sacrificed so much of their time and effort and who’d put the real energy into being on the ground to get us to this point. It was appropriate that the two negotiators, the two senior negotiators, execute the document that they had delivered for the benefit of the Afghan people.
I wanted to be here because this is a historic moment. This is a historic opportunity. I served as a soldier. I know the sacrifices that so many of our young men and women have made in Afghanistan, and I am determined – I am determined – to reduce their risk, to create fewer young men and women who are on their fourth and fifth and six trip to Afghanistan. I am determined to ensure that there are fewer young men and women sitting at Walter Reed and there are fewer young men and women that never return home to their families.
And that I am equally determined to make sure that there is never again a terror attack from Afghanistan. And I think we now sit on the precipice of a real opportunity, and I want to make sure that I personally do everything that I can to help our State Department get off on the right foot as we begin the difficult diplomatic effort that can lead to this peace that we’re seeking.
I talked for a moment about the changes, the transitions that have taken place in Afghanistan during our time there. This is a very different country than it was when the United States went there to seek revenge for what happened in New York on 9/11. This country is very different. We’ve done enormous work. The American people have sacrificed a great deal, not only the blood of our soldiers but resources, time, all of the work that the intelligence teams, our diplomats have done on the ground. I wanted to be here to express my appreciation for all we have done over these decades and then to make sure that everyone understood how important this is to get this right, to be here to communicate that the United States is committed to helping the Afghans push this process forward.
Your first question really gets to the political process inside of Afghanistan. We’re going to need every Afghani to join in. I talked about this in my remarks. They’re all going to have to be committed. They’re all going to understand there is something far bigger than being about themselves. They’ve got to deliver for the Afghan people.
The Afghan people want peace. You can see it. If you saw the pictures, Christina, from this week, it was glorious to watch Afghan people walking through the streets – they haven’t been able to do that – to see them dancing and celebrating peace.
The Afghan people are thirsting for the very opportunity that we have now presented to them, and every Afghan leader needs to look deep into their soul and deliver this peace for Afghanistan. It is time. The opportunity is in front of us.
We now have commitments from the Taliban to break with al-Qaida. This is historic. They need to live up to those commitments. They’ve made commitments to continue to reduce the violence level. They need to live up to those commitments.
When they do that, they will find that there is an opportunity in this place, that the international community is demanding that Afghanistan be a peaceful place, and the Afghan people richly deserve the opportunity that has been created today. And I wanted to be here to communicate that.
Thank you all very much for being with me today.