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Secretary Michael R. Pompeo Remarks to the Traveling Press on Afghanistan
March 24, 2020

Secretary Michael R. Pompeo Remarks to the Traveling Press on Afghanistan

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Let’s see.  So you’ve seen the statement that we’re going to release or we have released.  So I went there to try and – I’m sorry.

QUESTION:  (Inaudible) I can’t hear you.  Sorry.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  So with our trip that we’d been planning for a bit to go try and drive the peace process to success, met with President Ghani, met with CEO Abdullah, met with a series of other leaders, met with Mullah Baradar and his team.  That’s the final meeting of the evening here in Doha.

Look, there’s places where progress has been made.  The reduction of violence is real.  It’s not perfect, but it’s in a place that’s pretty good.  We’re continuing to honor our commitment that says that we will engage only when we are attacked.  There haven’t been attacks on American forces since the peace agreement was signed, what, three weeks ago now, three and a half weeks ago.

We are closer to having the beginning of the prison release than we were, although we were hopeful that that would have happened a couple – that would begin a couple weeks back.  It hasn’t started yet and that’s really where I pressed President Ghani and CEO Abdullah.  They still can’t see their way towards wanting to get on a team, the inclusive team.  That’s why you see in our statement that we are disappointed that they’ve not been able to do that.  But I think they are beginning to realize that we are intent upon executing the outlines of both the joint declaration with the Afghan Government and the document that we signed with the Taliban.  So I’m hopeful in the days ahead we’ll begin this process which will begin with the prisoner release and lead to getting an inclusive team together at the negotiating table, which is, in the end, the Afghans sitting together is the outcome we have to get to.

QUESTION:  So where are you pulling this 1 billion from specifically?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, I don’t want to talk about the details of what we’re going to do.  We’re hopeful, frankly, they’ll get their act together and we won’t have to do it, but we are prepared to do that if they can’t.

QUESTION:  Is there a timeline for them when they have to get the act together —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  I don’t have anything to add but what’s in the statement.

QUESTION:  What was their reaction when you told them that U.S. would be taking these actions?  Did they say anything towards – that like maybe they would make some progress, maybe they would soften their stances?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  There’s a recognition not just with them, with all the leaders in Afghanistan, that the time has come for these negotiations to begin.  I think that they realize it, too.  But there’s a long history.  There are lots of power centers in Afghanistan.  People want to try to gain advantage as they enter into these negotiations and we completely understand that.  But it’s time to sit down at the table and begin to have these hard conversations that have been put off for too long.  And so their reaction was they understand that we are serious in this.  They understand that we are committed to seeing this (inaudible) through.  They also understand that we will continue to defend the Afghan National Security Forces that we have invested so much time and blood and treasure in.  General Miller was with us for many of the meetings today.  We made very clear that we are going to continue to do everything we need to do to support those Afghan Security Forces.  That is central.  The negotiations have to take place against the backdrop of this important institution inside of Afghanistan, the ANDSF.

QUESTION:  Then were the Resolute Support partners made aware of this decision and were the Afghan leaders told that this was a possibility if they weren’t able to come to an agreement today?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Well, I mean, look, we’ve been working to get the Afghan leaders to do this for a long time, for months, right, (inaudible)?  Not just in the – not just post the declaration agreement.  We’ve been working to get the Afghan leaders to do this for an awfully long time, right – the previous administration tried to do it for eight years and wasn’t successful.  We think we’re closer to it than ever before.

And then to your point, I do think – I do think that they understand that the United States is going to do all that we have in our power to get them to head down that path, and we will.  We’ll continue to cajole, to coach, and to incentivize them to have the negotiations where all the Afghans are sitting at the table.

QUESTION:  But you have 29 partners on the ground.  Do they know that you’ve done this, that you were going to do this?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  We have been unambiguous with every one of our partners all the way through.

QUESTION:  How would that have an impact on your potential and eventual withdrawal, if any?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Well, remember we have a commitment that has a timeline.


SECRETARY POMPEO:  We are moving down that timeline.  So the Resolute Support forces, including all 29 countries, are reducing their footprint.  We made a commitment that we would do a force reduction that would be – I think it was 135 days, so June, July.  I can’t recall when that actually ends.  We’re moving down that path.  As long as these violence levels remain beneath the threshold, our commitment is that we’ll continue (inaudible).

QUESTION:  But wasn’t the intra-Afghan talks —


QUESTION:  That was the CT?  The CT?


QUESTION:  But wasn’t also like the beginning of intra-Afghan talks also – the beginning of intra-Afghan talks was also a condition?  Now this seems to be completely stalled —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  It’s all got to come together, right?  There’s lots of pieces.  There’s prisoner release, there’s the intra-Afghan negotiations, there’s the violence level.  There are many pieces to the ultimate solution here.

QUESTION:  And what was your message to the Taliban?  How did your meeting with them go?  What was —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  Yeah, we’ve made clear to them our expectation about violence levels.  There’s the coordination that’s taking place to make sure that we understand what each other are doing and the fact that they need to continue to do what they can do to facilitate these prisoner releases as well.  Remember they have an obligation there, too.

QUESTION:  Yes.  So you have extremely harsh words here for Afghan Government leaders.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  No, we simply made clear the same expectation we’ve had all along.

QUESTION:  Okay.  But in this you say that Afghan leaders are acting inconsistently with the commitments under the joint declaration.  Is the Taliban also acting inconsistently with the agreement that they made?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  No.  They committed to reducing violence; they have largely done that, and then they are working towards delivering their team to the ultimate negotiations.  There’s always places – this is 20 years of struggle, right – 40 years for the Afghans, 20 years of our participation.  It is undoubtedly the case that there are going to be – as I said the day we signed the agreements, there are going to be bumps and hurdles along the way.  Every party – not just those leaders, not just the Taliban – every party has a responsibility to help lead Afghanistan forward.  And I understand the struggles.  I understand that these are deep, longtime conflicts.  I think the progress that we’ve made over these last couple months has been extraordinary and unequaled, and I hope we’ll continue to make.  It’s why I traveled there.

MS ORTAGUS:  Okay, one more.

QUESTION:  One more, thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO:  (Inaudible) anything I missed?

QUESTION:  At the beginning of your remarks, you also sounded pretty hopeful, but this statement is, again, very harsh and it sounds like a bit of a breakdown.  I mean, can you maybe elaborate a little bit on, like, why you’re hopeful?  Like, this is a big – I don’t want to use the word “threat,” but, like, this is a big move from the U.S.’s point of view.  Do you think that this is going to be a wake-up call for them and that they are going to maybe leave aside some of their differences?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  This is – what we announced is entirely consistent with what we’ve told each of the parties all along the way about our expectation.  My observation is neither hopeful nor threatening.  It is factual.  These are the expectations that we have, that the Afghans themselves will lead this path forward.  Their leaders need to do that, all of their various leaders.  And our expectation is they will do that, and the United States will respond to protect America’s interests – our counterterrorism interests, all of the interests that we have in Afghanistan – all along the way.


QUESTION:  Can I just – one last question.  So I know you don’t want to get into the specifics of where this money is coming from, but come tomorrow or next week, will we see an impact of what the U.S. is doing on the ground in Afghanistan as a result of this decision today?

SECRETARY POMPEO:  No.  You’ll – you’re going to – the things we’re doing on the ground will be consistent with what we’ve told every one of our partners as well as every element of the Afghans about the things we’re going to do on the ground there.


QUESTION:  And you can’t say —

SECRETARY POMPEO:  We’re going to continue to do all we’re – all we’ve been doing to secure that the Afghan National Security Forces remain capable and that we’ll – consistent with the commitment we made to the Taliban as well as to the Afghan leadership.

MS ORTAGUS:  All right.

QUESTION:  Thank you, Secretary.

MS ORTAGUS:  Thanks, guys.