Special Representative Holbrooke Discusses Recent Travel to the Region

Posted by DipNote Bloggers
March 4, 2010
Ambassador Holbrooke With Pakistani Foreign Secretary Salman Bashir

Ambassador Holbrooke recently returned from travel to Afghanistan and Pakistan, which also that included stops in Central Asia -- the first visits in his capacity as SRAP -- as well as Georgia and Germany. The trip was focused on strengthening dialogue, developing further partnerships, consolidating support and deepening further regional linkage.

Ambassador Holbrooke said, "I want to talk about this trip which was my fifth trip this year and my second to the Gulf, second to South Asia, but my first, since taking this job, to Central Asia. And this is part of an accelerating intensification of our diplomatic outreach efforts.

"In the last six months, we've had delegations in Beijing, in Russia, in Turkey, in all -- almost every country in the Gulf and, of course, in Europe, in China and now for the first time, we've reached into Central Asia. I was in four of the five 'stans,' in order -- if I can remember them, we've moved so fast -- Uzbekistan, first; then Kyrgyzstan; then Tajikistan; and then Kazakhstan."

Ambassador Holbrooke continued, "Now the purpose of this, as we alluded to last time I was down here, was to visit all the countries in the region, all the neighbors -- with the exception of Iran. I've now talked face-to-face with the leadership. In the case of Kyrgyzstan, which doesn't have a common border with Afghanistan -- the very important Manas Transit Center, which will be -- which we will renew the arrangements some in the next few weeks, and I wanted to launch that process. We've very grateful to the Kyrgyz's Government for that support. And I had a very emotional meeting with the troops at Manas. Thirty-five thousand Americans go through Manas training -- Transit Center every month. And we just dropped in on the room where they would talk to their families on Skype and playing foosball and just chatted with some of them coming in and out. And that's always valuable to have an encounter with -- we talked, in particular, to a young first lieutenant who was on his way back to Alaska who had been in Khost and who gave us a very vivid word description of his efforts down there. I can go back to that later if it interests you.

"In Tashkent, of course, we talked about the Northern Distribution Network and its importance to us. Most of the supplies coming through that entry point into Afghanistan -- the Northern Distribution Network -- come through Uzbekistan. In Kazakhstan, we talked about improving and increasing our over-flight facilities and improving rail transit, which is an issue we're interested in. And in Tajikistan, we talked about also northern distribution issues. And in addition, we talked about resources. Water is a huge problem, as you all know, in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And Tajikistan has one of the greatest water potentials in the world, and President Rahmon described that to us in some detail. And we have, on a separate basis we have got a water resources task force now set up in the Department to examine how we can additionally help the countries of the area, and particularly Pakistan with the water issue.

"And finally, after the four Central Asian Republics, we went on to Georgia. Now, Georgia -- and we visited the Georgian battalion outside Tbilisi which will -- will be deployed next month to Afghanistan.

The U.S. Marines, who are advising the training and who do this as a profession, said these are among the best troops that they've ever seen. These -- many of these troops fought in Iraq with the coalition. Those of you who know Georgia, know that it's a mountainous country with terrain features that are sometimes similar to Afghanistan. They have a tremendous fighting tradition. And they are going into Afghanistan with no national caveats, and after they unpack and get acclimatized, they will be integrated into the Marine operations in Helmand.

"On a per capita basis, right now, they are -- they appear to have the highest per capita troop contribution of any country in the world. They'll be up to about 950 troops when this battalion gets there. It's an extremely important deployment and we are grateful for it. President Saakashvili and I had discussed this a year ago and started the process which has led to the deployment, and he accompanied me on this trip to the training mission. I was not there on any other subject. We did not discuss U.S-Russian relations. We did not discuss issues involving their future relationships with NATO. This was an Afghanistan-related trip.

"But I want to express with great strength on behalf of the entire U.S. Government how much the United States Government appreciates the Georgian contribution. It came by coincidence on the same day that the government in the Netherlands fell. No, this is an important deployment and it's gotten far too little attention.

"The -- Germany, of course, was to continue our high-level coordinations with one of our most important allies, but the main focus in Germany was the German support of the police training program. Germans -- by constitution, the Germans cannot put their police under a military command, and I'm sure all of you understand why that was written into the constitution. But within that framework, they're doing a very important job on police training which is being closely coordinated with the military command, but under separate command arrangements consistent with the German constitution.

"And we hope they will increase the amount of trainers. They do -- although we raised, we pulled together a very impressive number of additional training personnel in the last week at the force generation conference, we're still short some training personnel, so that's important.

"And the front end of the trip was in Doha and Saudi Arabia. Doha was to address the Brookings Institution Conference, the World Islamic Forum. They're one of the best conferences in the world run by Ambassador Martin Indyk and the Qatari Government. Talked to the Qatari officials, of course, and then went to Riyadh to continue our dialogue with them, which is -- obviously Saudi Arabia is of enormous importance.

"Now, in the middle of this, I went to Afghanistan and Pakistan and saw the leadership. I've now seen President Karzai three times in three different countries in the last month. We've had extensive and detailed discussions on the implementation of his plans as he outlined them in Kabul on November 19th, in London on January 28th, and in Munich on February 6th or 7th -- I don't remember which date, but at the Munich conference. And so the conversations in Kabul were a continuation of that. And I met with other members of the government as well. Did not have a chance to get out of town, but I spent a lot of time with General McChrystal and Ambassador Eikenberry.

"Finally, in Pakistan, extensive discussions with the president, Prime Minister Gilani, the leader of the opposition Nawaz Sharif, and the leadership of the Pakistani Army General Kayani and his senior colleagues. Those -- that dialogue will continue. My next trip to the region will be with Admiral Mullen. Together, we did this just under a year ago. I think some of you in this room were on that trip. And Admiral Mullen and I try to do about one civ-mil -- joint civ-mil trip a year, and that trip will include India."

Read the full text of Ambassador Holbrooke's briefing here.


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