Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined President Barack Obama, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman General James Cartwright to brief the press on progress in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the last twelve months. Before discussing the way forward, President Obama spoke of the passing of Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Representative Richard Holbrooke. He said, "Our efforts also reflect the dedication of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, whose memory we honor and whose work we'll continue. Indeed, the tributes to Richard that have poured in from around the globe speak to both the enormous impact of his life and to the broad international commitment to our shared efforts in this critical region."
President Obama then reviewed progress over the past year. He said, "I have spoken with President Karzai of Afghanistan as well as President Zardari of Pakistan and discussed our findings and the way forward together. Today, I want to update the American people on our review -- our assessment of where we stand and areas where we need to do better. I want to be clear. This continues to be a very difficult endeavor. But I can report that thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians on the ground, we are on track to achieve our goals.
"It's important to remember why we remain in Afghanistan. It was Afghanistan where al Qaeda plotted the 9/11 attacks that murdered 3,000 innocent people. It is the tribal regions along the Afghan-Pakistan border from which terrorists have launched more attacks against our homeland and our allies. And if an even wider insurgency were to engulf Afghanistan, that would give al Qaeda even more space to plan these attacks.
"And that's why, from the start, I've been very clear about our core goal. It's not to defeat every last threat to the security of Afghanistan, because, ultimately, it is Afghans who must secure their country. And it's not nation-building, because it is Afghans who must build their nation. Rather, we are focused on disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and preventing its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.
"In pursuit of our core goal we are seeing significant progress. Today, al Qaeda's senior leadership in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan is under more pressure than at any point since they fled Afghanistan nine years ago. Senior leaders have been killed. It's harder for them to recruit; it's harder for them to travel; it's harder for them to train; it's harder for them to plot and launch attacks. In short, al Qaeda is hunkered down. It will take time to ultimately defeat al Qaeda, and it remains a ruthless and resilient enemy bent on attacking our country. But make no mistake -- we are going to remain relentless in disrupting and dismantling that terrorist organization.
"In Afghanistan, we remain focused on the three areas of our strategy: our military effort to break the Taliban's momentum and train Afghan forces so they can take the lead; our civilian effort to promote effective governance and development; and regional cooperation, especially with Pakistan, because our strategy has to succeed on both sides of the border.
"Indeed, for the first time in years, we've put in place the strategy and the resources that our efforts in Afghanistan demand. And because we've ended our combat mission in Iraq, and brought home nearly 100,000 of our troops from Iraq, we're in a better position to give our forces in Afghanistan the support and equipment they need to achieve their missions. And our drawdown in Iraq also means that today there are tens of thousands fewer Americans deployed in harm's way than when I took office.
"With those additional forces in Afghanistan, we are making considerable gains toward our military objectives. The additional military and civilian personnel that I ordered in Afghanistan are now in place, along with additional forces from our coalition, which has grown to 49 nations. Along with our Afghan partners, we've gone on the offensive, targeting the Taliban and its leaders and pushing them out of their strongholds."
He continued, "...We're going to have to continue to stand up. We'll continue to give our brave troops and civilians the strategy and resources they need to succeed. We will never waver from our goal of disrupting, dismantling, and ultimately defeating al Qaeda. We will forge enduring partnerships with people who are committed to progress and to peace. And we will continue to do everything in our power to ensure the security and the safety of the American people."
Secretary Clinton emphasized the progress made over the past 22 months. "President Obama announced a strategy a year ago that defined a clear mission and committed the resources needed to accomplish it," she said, "Today's review shows that while we face serious challenges, as the President has just outlined, key parts of our strategy are indeed working well.
"In Pakistan, we have moved beyond a purely transactional relationship dominated by military cooperation. We now have broad engagement on both the civilian and military sides.
"Through the strategic dialogue that we established last year, Pakistan and the United States have begun a long-term commitment to work together not just on security but on energy, agriculture, education, health and other areas that directly affect the daily lives of the Pakistani people.
"There have been, there will continue to be obstacles and setbacks, but our conclusion is that our partnership is slowly but steadily improving. We have greater cooperation and understanding, and that is yielding tangible results on the ground.
"In Afghanistan, our surge is not simply military. We have expanded our presence from 320 civilians less than two years ago to 1,100 today. Accomplishing our mission requires close cooperation between our civilians, our troops and our international and Afghan partners. We have worked together to arrest the momentum of the Taliban.
"Civilians have been particularly instrumental in the progress we'e seen in Helmand and Kandahar, and they will be critical in helping us consolidate the gains we've made in the last year as we move toward a transition to Afghan responsibility.
"...We will not -- in fact, we dare not -- repeat history. We will continue to support the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan as they work to build their future -- one that is secure, prosperous and free, and does not pose a threat to the people of the United States."
Secretary Gates reinforced the President and Secretary's Clinton statement that the president's key goals will be achieved. He said, "While our progress in Afghanistan, as both the president and Secretary Clinton have said, is fragile and reversible, I believe that we will be able to achieve the key goals laid out by the president last year and further embraced by other NATO heads of state in Lisbon." He continued, “...That is, for Afghan forces to begin taking the security lead in the coming year, and for the Afghan government to assume security responsibility countrywide by the end of 2014.”