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Holbrooke's Briefing on Trip to Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Brussels, July 2009

Speaker: Richard C. Holbrooke
Published July 29, 2009

Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, gave this press conference on July 29, 2009 following his trip to the region.

MR. CROWLEY: We have Special Representative Richard Holbrooke here back from his trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Brussels. And we thought he would be gracious with his time – to kind of give you an update on the situation in both countries, both as we deal with the current situation in Pakistan and also head towards the election in Afghanistan in about three weeks time.

Richard, thanks for coming.


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Thank you. I’ll be happy to take your questions. Just identify yourself, please.

QUESTION: Dan Dombey, Financial Times. Following the funding commitments that the U.S. and its partners received for the Afghan national security forces expansion at the NATO summit, how well are you –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: What were the what commitments?

QUESTION: Funding commitments for the Afghan national –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: From who?

QUESTION: I – well, you had, I think, a couple of hundred million from Germany.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: You’re talking about new commitments?

QUESTION: The commitment for – to fund the expansion of the forces. I thought Germany made –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I didn’t go to Europe to get more commitments. We – an expansion of the armed services and police of Afghanistan is obviously necessary. That’s hardly a secret. But my job on this trip wasn’t to go around getting new commitments.

QUESTION: No, it’s just a general question, which is how sustainable is the expansion of the ANSF that is envisaged in the strategy, and where do you foresee the main part of the funding for that expansion to come from?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: It’s – okay, sorry, I misunderstood because you – I thought you were talking about prior. It’s absolutely essential that over time Afghanistan assume responsibility for its own security and combat troops draw down. Of course, economic assistance, training, advisory work will continue for quite a while. The current force levels of police and army are clearly going to have to be increased.

But we’re in the middle of an election campaign in Afghanistan, and that election campaign has been going on, basically, in one form or another, since this Administration took office. When we came into office, there was a constitutional crisis impending, a question of legitimacy, no certainty as to when the date would take place, opposition people talking about mass demonstrations. And this Administration focused first on helping the Afghans stabilize their political situation, set a date for the elections. Our military forces and those of our allies then picked up the ball and began working closely with the Afghan Government to assure the best possible election under extremely difficult circumstances.

As that progressed, we’ve started to put in place some of our programs, and we continue to support extensive training of the army and the police. But it’s apparent that the current level of the national security forces of Afghanistan are not going to be sufficient in the long run. After the election, this will be a subject we will look at in conjunction with the new government. We’ll see what the needs are, and then we’ll see how we can support them.

So forgive me if I’m not too specific, but I do wish to draw your attention to a couple of facts which I don’t think get enough public attention. First of all, Japan has not given – been given sufficient credit for their extraordinary act of paying the police salaries for the entire country during this present time phase. The exact amount my colleagues can give you, if you’re interested.

Secondly, the European gendarmerie force is sending police in to train. And the gendarmerie of the European – this is not an EU organization, the European gendarmerie. It’s a collection of about six countries that do gendarmerie work headquartered in Italy. That’s a tremendously positive development.

Third, the reorganization now taking place within ISAF is going to seek to consolidate the police training, which has been scattered in so many different places that it has lacked a certain coherence.

So in answer to your question, this is a very high priority, and once we’re past the election, it will get even higher.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Ambassador Holbrooke, if I may ask a question on Pakistan.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: All identifications --

QUESTION: Mark Landler with The New York Times.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Even if I know you and wish I didn’t, but --

QUESTION: Right. Well said. On Swat – and tell me if I’m right in this – I heard that you were interested in visiting Swat –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: That’s right.

QUESTION: -- and that the Pakistanis said that they couldn't arrange security for you.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: That’s correct. You heard because it’s in today’s New York Times.

QUESTION: Exactly. (Laughter.) Do you – does that tell you something about the state of security in Swat? And maybe just to put it more straight, what do you make of the state of security in Swat?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I want to be very frank with you. I asked to go to Swat or Buner, knowing that I wasn’t going to be able to go to Mingora, but I wanted to establish the limits of the – of what was possible here because, as any of you who have traveled with me know, we’d like to go as far forward as we’re allowed to. That’s the way you learn.

And the military said they really would prefer we didn’t do it now. And “prefer” means no. So we didn’t. And then I was – then we picked another refugee camp, which was a good one, and then we got weathered out so we never went. My colleague, Eric Schwartz, the Assistant Secretary of State for Refugees, was able to go the next day, and I hope that – I hope you’re going to make him available to the press because Eric --

QUESTION: He’s testifying today.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Yeah. And I think I would recommend Eric come down here and talk to you more.

So, Mark, what you said is exactly true, and I hope to visit on the next trip because I think it’s a way of finding out how they feel. Now, there are international aid workers in Buner, so it isn’t that nobody could go in, but they felt that if somebody went in high-profile, heavy security, tons of journalists, including some of my friends in this room, that would have been a problem for them. So I don’t want to become a burden on people, so it wasn’t a big issue.

QUESTION: Laura Rozen from Foreign Policy. Can you talk about the scheduling complications that led to you postponing the trip to India this last week?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: There were no complications. I have the four – three or four people in India who are my main policy interlocutors. All but one of them were going to be out of the country, so --

QUESTION: And you weren’t aware of that before you scheduled going to –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: No, we got – I think we were in the air. Ashley, when did we find out that the Indians weren’t going to be available?

STAFF: Yeah, it was basically when he was en route to Pakistan we found out.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: So, but I’m going back --

STAFF: But you’re going back.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I’m going to go back in mid August. And within the limits of Indian independence, they – I would – they all are looking forward to my coming.

QUESTION: Raghubir Goyal from India Globe and Asia Today. First of all, do you see there is a rift between you and India, because there were some reports in India that that’s why maybe you did not visit India? And also –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I just answered that question.

QUESTION: Yes.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Really. I mean, you know, if there’s a rift between me and India, it would be the first rift between me and India since I was seven years old. You know, India was the first country in the world I was ever aware of. I have a very special feeling for it. And if there’s a rift, you’ll have to ask the Indians. I didn’t see any rift. The four people I usually see, all but one of them were out of the – was out of the country. I talked to the Indians on the phone. Bob Blake was there with the Secretary of State. Bob Blake had some talks which were very helpful. There’s no issue here.

QUESTION: And second, sir, as far as your visit to – main question was, as far as your visit to Pakistan, can you give little highlights how Pakistan is doing as far as security concerns, and also if you are going to get ever Usama bin Ladin, which is the most wanted person on this earth and most famous.

(Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: The trip to Pakistan was very valuable, as they all are. I talked to the leadership of the civilians in the military and private citizens. I was – this is a country facing a staggering number of front-page story problems at one time. The number one subject in Afghanistan among the people on this trip that I talked to was the energy crisis and the electricity. And while we were there, there were demonstrations of textile workers protesting the reductions in electricity. It’s reducing their output. All of you can see the enormous danger that poses. President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani and I talked a lot about that.

I would draw your attention to the fact that the President of the United States asked that his senior international economic – one of his senior international economic experts, David Lipton, to go out ahead of me. And Lipton and I are friends and we coordinated closely.

The other main subjects, of course, were the internal refugees and the military offensive. And then, of course, in addition, the situation in Afghanistan. I want to underscore a point, separate from my trip. Ambassador Eikenberry and General McChrystal, the top two people in Afghanistan, have been traveling to – have been traveling to Pakistan fairly regularly – sometimes public, sometimes not – just to consult with the government, including the Pakistani army, about making sure that this time around, as the ISAF offensive picks up steam, the Pakistanis are ready for it. So they know – the Pakistanis know where the military operations are happening and they can prepare for any spillover effects. Similarly, we talked to the Pakistanis about if their military operations push people the other way into Afghanistan.

So the military-to-military discussions are helping to harmonize this most explosively dangerous area. Hard to imagine a more dangerous area on the face of the earth today than an area which contains, as you pointed out, al-Qaida, Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Taliban, two and a half million refugees. It’s just extraordinary how difficult it is.

And so we’re spending a lot of time working on that. And each trip, I think we deepen the relationships. And we also announced the disbursement of $165 million worth of American aid. I want to caution you here because it was – some of the journalists got confused about this on our trip. We didn’t announce $165 million of new aid. We announced the disbursement and release of existing aid, aid we’d already announced. It wasn’t new, but it was very important because it had been held up.

QUESTION: Usama bin Ladin, sir?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Hmm?

QUESTION: Usama bin Ladin?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Usama bin Ladin – we didn’t see him on this trip.
(Laughter.)

QUESTION: Are you still interested to get him?

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: What?

QUESTION: Nothing.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I don’t know what your question is. When are we going to capture or eliminate him?

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Yes, sir.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: If I knew, I wouldn't tell. But I don’t know.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) welcome back. I’d like, if you could, to expand a little bit on the first answer you gave talking about the need for more Afghan national army troops.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: And police.

QUESTION: And police, exactly, security forces. And as you know, there’s been a lot of pressure on the Congress and there’s been discussions, apparently, among the top military brass in the U.S. about the need for more ANSF. And I’d like to get your take on what you think the total number should be, what the U.S. is capable of supporting, and also to comment somewhat on this talk about whether there should be more U.S. forces sent to Afghanistan as well as a sort of supplement to that.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I can’t give you an exact figure for several reasons. One, it’s under study and review. Two, there are various numbers being thrown around. Three, the Afghan Government has to be a central part of these discussions and there are elections coming up in a few weeks and we’ve got to talk to them.

On the second part of your question, you’ll have to address that to the Pentagon.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.) I was wondering if you could talk a little bit more about the drug trade and your efforts to kind of shift to more of an alternative livelihood, because as you said while you were on your latest trip, it seems now that the Taliban is getting more money from the drug trade than it is from its outside kind of funding around the world. And do you see support among the Afghan people for this new effort, and do you think it’s sustainable?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I’m sorry, you say that I said they’re getting more from the drug trade?

QUESTION: Well, no, we –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I said the reverse.

QUESTION: No, they’re getting more from –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: From outside. Right. That’s – but I’ve said that many times.
One of the most interesting things I saw on the trip down in Helmand and Kandahar was the first tangible evidence that one of the most important policy shifts of the United States since January 20th is beginning to show results. As you know because we’ve announced it several times, and it finally got picked up about the fourth or fifth time we said it, ironically, when I was in Trieste, not here in Washington, we have phased – we are phasing out crop eradication. The United States and the ISAF forces are not going to go around assisting or participating in the destruction of poppy fields anymore. The United States has wasted hundreds of millions of dollars doing this. A per-hectare cost has been estimated at $44,000 a hectare to destroy the poppy seeds. You can buy real estate for that in most of the – in many places.

If the Afghans wish – I mentioned this to Governor Mangal in Helmand, and he laughed. He – and he said, “I can eliminate – I can destroy poppies for $150 a hectare.” And I said, “Governor, that’s up to you, but we’re – if you want to – but we’re not going to get in that business.” All we did was alienate poppy farmers who were poor farmers, who were growing the best cash crop they could grow in a market where they couldn’t get other things to market, and we were driving people into the hands of the Taliban.

Now, this flies in the face of a lot of conventional drug enforcement doctrine. Why did – why was it wrong? Because in other countries – Mexico, Colombia, the Golden Triangle in Thailand – that was the purpose of our policy. Here, of course, our policy is to strengthen the government and help defeat the Taliban, and we were not doing it. And the amount of hectarage we were destroying was inconsequential and the amount of money we were denying the Taliban was zero. They got everything they needed anyway.

So after consulting a lot of experts, we – and having an internal debate in the U.S. Government, because a lot of people were doctrinally addicted, if you’ll pardon the pun, to that concept – we did this. And then we started out – and we said, okay, no more crop eradication, we’ll phase that out, we will increase our efforts in interdiction, and third, we’re going to increase agriculture.
On this trip, we saw the first indications that it might work. And those indications came from the British and American forces in Helmand, where they targeted interdiction and made interdiction their goal and they went after drug dealers. And using modern technologies, they located what they called drug bazaars, marketplaces which sold drug paraphernalia, precursor chemicals, laboratory equipment, poppy seeds and there were vast amounts of opium, nice fluffy poppy, to buy and sell, and they destroyed them.

And CNN wrote a – ran a very good piece on this, which showed the poppies. I don’t know if it was run domestically, but it was shown all over the world repeatedly. And Ambassador Tony Wayne, our number-three ambassador out there, who all of you know, former ambassador to Argentina, was in the middle of this area and the poppies were blowing up and burning. And we don’t – it’s hard to figure out what the equivalent was, but there probably was, in one week, several years of useless crop eradication – in fact, counterproductive. To me, in all the trips I made out there, this was the most gratifying thing, because it’s nice to have theories and policies, but you got to see how they work on the ground.

The second thing is I – okay, so ground and crop eradication, I explained that. Interdiction seems to be working. They’ve got some other targets ahead of them which I think will be equally effective.

Agriculture; the most well-received change in American policy has been our dramatic upgrade of agriculture. I would simply note that both Senators Obama and Clinton proposed things like this last year when they were campaigning. So it was a pleasure to take a – something proposed during the campaign and see it converted into a reality on the ground. Everywhere I went, the realization was just beginning to dawn that we were going to put hundreds of millions of dollars into agriculture from the agricultural development teams in some of the provinces run by the national guards or states like Texas. I spent some time with the Texas agricultural development team in Ghazni province – and they’re doing all these terrific projects – to the more formal agricultural efforts that we have, which are a combined integrated AID-U.S. Department of Agriculture team.

Now that is just beginning to get rolling, but it was remarkable to me how every candidate we called on, every Afghan in the provinces, everyone had heard about it already. So I – forgive the long answer, but I see this all interconnected – getting rid of crop eradication, increasing interdiction, which is what really hurts the drug kingpins, the corrupt police, and the Taliban, and finally, addressing what – after all, it’s an agricultural country, 80 percent of the people in agriculture.

It was a great export country until the Soviet invasion in 1978, and it exported pomegranates and most of the world’s – over half the world’s raisins. It even exported wine, pistachios. And all that died. And the Afghans are great, great farmers, but they need help, and we’re going to do an overall effort. And Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack will go out there in October, and he will lead a group. And I would encourage some of you to consider going with him. It’s going to be a terrific trip.

Way in the back.

QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. Ali Imran from Associated Press of Pakistan.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: From where?

QUESTION: Associated Press of Pakistan.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Oh, APP.

QUESTION: During your visit to Brussels, you said that the European countries and under – other powers should help more Pakistan to deal with the issue of IDPs and their return, rehabilitation and reconstruction of –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: You mean what I said yesterday in Brussels?

QUESTION: Yes. I mean, what –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Did I have any reaction?

QUESTION: No. I mean, what – do you find the European powers and the other partners of international community to – committed to help Pakistan at this critical hour?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: The Europeans – there are 41 nations, most of them European, participating in the international efforts in Afghanistan. But the Europeans are quite quick to admit that they hadn’t paid enough attention to Pakistan in the past. I would argue that perhaps we didn’t either.

But in any case, I made the case, just as you cited, in closed meetings and in public. I met yesterday with the NATO Council, with the European Commission, and with the Belgian foreign minister. And in all these cases, I raised this issue. When you go to people and you say, you ought to do more, they can’t say yes in the room. They have their own processes, they have their budgets, they have their parliaments, just like we do. And I just wanted to get the ball rolling on a very public discussion. Why? Because two reasons: Pakistan is critically important to the rest of the world, and it has very serious challenges right now, starting with the energy sector and the refugees and the insurgency and the overall economy; and secondly, because what happens in Pakistan has a direct effect on Afghanistan.

QUESTION: Ambassador, you seem to be discriminating against the front row, but I’ll forgive you for that. Bob Burns from AP. A question about the so-called civilian surge in Afghanistan. I’m wondering if you’re satisfied with the pace at which that’s happening. And I ask that having heard Tony Cordesman of CSIS this morning talking about his several weeks in Afghanistan recently. In his view, it’s been insufficient and he doesn’t foresee it reaching a – sort of a critical mass for at least another year. Is the timeline stretching out? What do you –

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Is he volunteering to go out there? Because we could use someone with his talents. He’s going to do agriculture or –

QUESTION: No, he says you don’t have enough people to do those things.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I have no idea what he’s talking about. We have a very sustained plan. This is not like taking an existing military unit out of Fort Bragg and training them and then sending them out. Even the military takes some time. Our training groups have not yet gotten there.

But I just don’t agree with him. We have a – we have a separate, dedicated personnel staff here in my office under presidential waiver authority. We have hundreds of people in the pipeline. Many people have already arrived. I saw a mission which was showing much more energy than I’d ever seen before on previous trips going back three or four years. And most importantly, you can’t have civilians go out unless there’s security. And we are actually out of billets in Kabul to put people. And we want to get people out in the field.

Am I – your initial question was, was I satisfied? Quite honestly, and speaking personally, I’m never satisfied in this job, because the pressures are so great. And you know that. We’ve traveled together. You understand what my job is. And my job is to try to make the system work faster and better.

But the way you describe this criticism – and I haven’t talked to him – I don’t think it’s – it sounds to me like it’s based on taking an issue out of perspective. You come – tell you what: come down to our offices, talk to our personnel people, get every detail you want, there’s nothing classified about it, and reach your own conclusions. We’ll get you on our side here (inaudible). (Laughter.)
Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Hi, Colin Campbell of Atlantic Television News Press TV. How is the United States working with Afghanistan’s IEC to ensure the most fair elections possible? Could you go over that?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Well, first of all, Secretary Clinton sent Ambassador Tim Carney, who many of you know, out there to head a special election unit. Tim is a very experienced election official. This morning, he reported by closed-circuit television to the National Security Council staff and team, and I was there for that meeting. Actually, Ambassador Eikenberry was there, too. That group is our primary interface with the election commission.

There are two others commissions. There’s a complaints commission and a media commission. And we – and I met with all three.

One of the most dramatic things that I did on this trip was to go out to the IEC and go to this large – like a warehouse or an airplane hanger. And you go in and there are about 200 to 300 young Afghans in blue jeans, t-shirts, whatever, sitting behind computer terminals registering voters. And they’ve registered over a million new voters. They have a backlog of 3 million. They’re a little behind, only 20 days to go, 22 days, and they’re rushing to register at least three or four million additional voters.

I think that since the registrants from last election remain on the rolls, you had about 17 million names on the chart. But we don’t know how many of those people are still alive or are still in the country. So we will never have an exact number of how many people could have voted – in other words, one of the figures that you’ll all ask, what percentage of the eligible electorate voted, is probably not going to be attainable. But what we will know is how many people vote. And we know how many people voted last time.

Now, we’re working very closely with these three commissions. Everybody’s complaining about the elections. It happens in our country, too. People have charges of this and that. But my view is that the election – it’s an extraordinary thing to hold an election in the middle of a war. And this is the first contested election in Afghanistan history. So while I saw many – I heard complaints from every side, I wasn’t unduly upset by those.

We are working very closely with the election commission. The head of it, Dr. Lodin, and I had two different meetings, one private and one in a group. And I don’t know what else I can say about it. But it is our main focus right now.

QUESTION: Warren Strobel with McClatchy newspapers. Two questions about Swat. First, can you give us your general assessment of how well the Pakistani Government is doing – and not the clearing phase, but the holding and building, the reconstruction?

And secondly, our correspondent in the region, or in the country, reported this morning that Pakistani authorities have found that the Taliban abducted about a hundred teenage boys and sent them to a – some sort of indoctrination camp to train them to be suicide bombers with a terrorism curriculum. I was just wondering if you knew anything further. I had heard that while you were there.

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: On the first question, I really can’t answer your question, because I wasn’t able to get there. And of course, you’re asking the key question. We don’t know exactly to what extent the Pakistani army dispersed or destroyed the enemy. And the test of this operation is, of course, when the refugees return, can they go home? Are they safe? And we’re just going to have to wait and see.

But I do want to stress something here. This is the first – the Pakistanis have moved a very large number of troops from their eastern border to their western border, and those – that’s a historically and significant redeployment.

Secondly, on your second question, I haven’t – I’m not aware of the details of the story, but I will check it. We’ve heard these stories many times in the past, and some – you remember a while ago the kids escaped in a similar situation. And so I’d like to know more about it and I’ll look at the story.

Yes, sir.

QUESTION: To what extent – (inaudible) from Press Trust of India. To what extent do you think the resolution of Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan will help you in achieving your three goals – dismantle, disrupt, and defeat al-Qaida and Taliban in the --

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: That issue is outside my area of ability to discuss.

QUESTION: And secondly, sir, in the last two weeks, Pakistani leaders have said – have given public statement about India’s involvement in Baluchistan. Have Pakistani leaders brought this to your notice? Have they given you any credible evidence of India’s involvement in Baluchistan?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Have they?

QUESTION: Have they given you any credible evidence of India’s involvement in Baluchistan?
AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I would be misleading if I said it didn’t come up, but the narrow answer to your question is no.
Yeah.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) for the broad region of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Pakistani forces have been fighting in Swat and the tribal area, but they haven’t yet caught any militant leader; for example, Baitullah Mehsud or Maulana Fazlullah. Have you talked with Pakistani leaders that they are yet to get any one of those militant leaders?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: That’s a constant subject, and – but they did arrest Sufi Mohammad. Now, some people say he’s an old guy and it’s meaningless. I don’t agree with that. He’s the father-in-law of Fazlullah. He’s one of the leading lights. He’s a guy who negotiated that truce which turned out to be a surrender disguised as a truce, which led to the crisis.

But the Pakistani army is, I think, anxious to bring these people to justice. And we would – we hope that will happen.

QUESTION: You mentioned that you feel under a lot of pressure all the time in this job. Are you feeling that with British support seems to be dwindling for their troops to stay in Afghanistan and also in the buildup to midterms in the U.S., it would appear that U.S. support in this – the body bags – more body bags start coming in and you lose more of your own forces, are you feeling that your own time clock is ticking on this and that you have a limited amount of time in which to get what you need done before the public sort of turns against you?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I don’t want to comment on the British side of it, particularly with David Miliband in the building right now. And I wasn’t able to hear his press conference with Secretary Clinton.

And on the timeframe issue, I think we want to show a visible, tangible progress. But we don’t have a timetable, but we want to show progress to the world and the American public by next year. But don’t – people should not interpret that, as some have, as some kind of deadline or arbitrary timetable.

MR. CROWLEY: We can take two more questions.

QUESTION: Just – Sebastian Walker from Al Jazeera. Just quickly again on the counternarcotics issue, why do you think the U.S. pursued a policy that you’ve described as totally ineffectual for so long? And with this new strategy, how does that actually play out on the ground? So for example, with the U.S. Marines combing Helmand province, if they come across a field being cultivated for opium poppy production, what do they do? Do they just leave it?

And then on another issue, you’ve been talking about this flow of money from sympathizers to the Taliban from Gulf countries. Would you describe that as coming from all Gulf countries? Could you be more specific about where you think this money is actually coming from?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: On the first part of your three-part question, the – you’ll have to ask the people that did this, none of whom are in this room right now. And you’ll have to ask the people who thought this was the right way to spend American taxpayer dollars. They got nothing for it.

On the second part of your question, I’m not going to know the tactical operational orders to the troops, but their mission is not to support or assist crop eradication. And General McChrystal and I are absolutely – and General Petraeus are absolutely united on that.

On the third part of your question, I do want to clarify something. I am not – repeat, not accusing the governments of the region. This comes up all the time because in the past – last year, the year before that – there were accusations made by government officials of the previous administration. I’m not doing that. But there’s very strong evidence that money flows from that area unregulated, very hard to regulate, and we care a lot about that.

And that’s why I visited every member of the GCC except one already, and plan to go back as often as possible. That’s why one of the members of our nine-agency interagency staff is from the Treasury Department, and why we have set up a task force under Treasury’s leadership coordinated by us on this important issue, which involves so many elements of the U.S. Government that it’s extraordinary. We know how tough this is, but if money flowing from that area contributes to the use of force which results in casualties to our forces and those of our allies, we owe it to the troops to do some – to try to do something about it.


QUESTION: So you’d include all – sorry, you’d include all Gulf countries within that?


AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: No, I didn’t say that. I’m not going to specify the countries because it’s just not fair to them. But I did want to specify that I’m not holding the governments responsible.
Last question.

QUESTION: Depending on who wins the election in Pak – in Afghanistan, will the U.S. policy towards the country – will it be redefined or not?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: Depending on who wins, will the U.S. policy be what?


QUESTION: Will be redefined?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: I don’t want to speculate about what happens after the election. I just want to be clear on what we hope to see in the election, which is an election whose outcome is accepted as legitimate by the Afghan people and the world, which reflects the desires of those who vote.

Not everyone’s going to vote. There’ll be areas where the polling places will be – will not be able to open because of security. Everybody understands that. A perfect election in this situation is not possible. There have been occasional problems in our elections, you might notice, through – I think it was only a few weeks ago we finally found out who the senator from Minnesota was, right, P.J.?

MR. CROWLEY: That’s right. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: And – but I did want to clarify that let’s focus on the election and its immediate aftermath, and then we’ll move on. But we – our commitment to Afghanistan, and I need to underscore this – the President has said repeatedly our commitment to Afghanistan stands not only because it’s in our own national interest to do so, but because it’s important to the entire region that stretches from the Mediterranean all the way east through the subcontinent.

Now I – there was – I was going to – actually going to call on you, so I’ll give you the last question.

QUESTION: Very nice, thank you. Mina al-Oraibi, Sharq al-Awsat newspaper. Ambassador, I wanted to raise the issue of detainees and the process of, you know, detainees that are in Bagram at the moment, how they’re being actually, you know, dealt with, the judicial process, transparency, and so forth. With General Stone there, how much progress are you seeing on the detainee issue? And how important is it to deal with the issues of the detainees?

AMBASSADOR HOLBROOKE: General Stone performed a great service to all of us with his study. We now have to review its recommendations and move towards implementation of whatever parts we feel are appropriate.

Secondly, the Legal Adviser to the Secretary of State Harold Koh, who I’m sure many of you know because he was formerly the Assistant Secretary for Human Rights in the Clinton Administration, came with us to Afghanistan, stayed on, and went to Bagram.

So I would prefer, in the fairness to that process – I have not been able to connect with him yet. I’d prefer to just direct your questions through P.J. to Harold when he gets back on the detainee issue. It’s a very important issue, and we’re looking at it very carefully.

Thank you very much.

 

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Transcript

U.S Policy in Afghanistan

Speaker: Richard C. Holbrooke
Presider: Michael R. Gordon

Richard C. Holbrooke outlines U.S. policy toward Afghanistan following President Barack Obama's address at the United States Military Academy...