During a meeting at the Pentagon Tuesday, senior U.S. and Afghan defense officials agreed to establish a regular strategic dialogue, designed to define and build a long-term defense relationship that a senior U.S. official says will endure far beyond the current conflict.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates hosted his Afghan counterpart, Abdul Rahim Wardak, and other senior officials accompanying President Hamid Karzai in Washington this week. Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell says the 90-minute meeting focused on building a long-term bi-lateral defense relationship, and the officials agreed to establish a formal, regular dialogue to accomplish that.
"Everyone agreed that we need to engage even more often than we are," said Geoff Morrell. "We meet with them frequently but there is not a standing mechanism and schedule for those meetings. And so this is a way to more regularize our relationship with Afghan defense and military officials going forward."
Morrell said the officials did not discuss details of the impending offensive in Afghanistan's main southern city, Kandahar, about which President Karzai has expressed some concern. And the spokesman declined to provide details of any Afghan equipment requests made during the meeting, or to say whether there was discussion of a long-term security agreement, like the one the United States and Iraq signed two years ago. But he said the officials discussed their vision for a long-term relationship.
"The secretary believes that there should be a relationship built on not just combat in this conflict, but training, equipping, advising, assisting in counter-narcotics and counter-terrorism long after this current conflict has been decided," he said.
Morrell says the officials also discussed ongoing efforts to expand and improve the Afghan security forces and the need to further develop both countries' security relationships with Pakistan.
He says Secretary Gates also reassured the Afghan officials that when U.S. troops begin to withdraw from Afghanistan in July of next year, under President Barack Obama's plan, it will only be the beginning of a long process of transition to Afghan responsibility. Morrell says Afghan officials understand that, but that some people in their country still have questions about U.S. intentions.
He says Secretary Gates told his Afghan guests he has never seen as extensive an effort to build a relationship across as many government departments as he is seeing this week during President Karzai's visit. The Afghan leader came with several government ministers who are meeting with their American counterparts to focus on interaction ranging from defense to diplomacy to agricultural aid and several other aspects.