Meeting with Embassy Staff in Kabul
Secretary of State
Well, thank you all. And it is great to see you early in the morning here. I am delighted that I was able to come by and eyeball all of you and thank you, once again, for your service.
I am also very pleased to thank Ambassador Crocker for his service to this mission, his sixth ambassadorship in a distinguished career. And it is certainly to all of our benefit that we persuaded him to come out of retirement and come to Kabul to assume this post. He has deep affection, as you know, for Afghanistan, having hitch-hiked through the country when he was a much younger man. And he was telling me today on the ride from the airport to the embassy that he would hitch-hike around Afghanistan in 1970. And when drivers would pick him up it wouldn't be just for a ride, it would be for lunch, for dinner, to spend the night, to get to know the people. And so he came back with great affection.
Like me, he is a long-suffering Chicago Cubs fan. (Laughter.) Yes, I know, I know. And he and I sat through yet another loss at Wrigley Field, along with General Allen. We tried to put a good face on it. But I think if you are masochistic enough to be a Cubs fan, you are drawn to assignments like this, and what I do for everyday, and the like. And I want to thank you, Ryan, for your leadership and your vision. We will miss you when you try to retire again in a few weeks. But we will certainly build on your progress.
And I want to thank Ambassador Cunningham and the entire team here who have done such a great job. And it is wonderful to see General Allen again. General Allen threw out the first pitch at Wrigley Field. I don't know if you have seen it on YouTube, but it is pretty good. He did a lot of practicing for that, I am told.
I want to thank you all for everything each of you has done. This is a whole-of-government effort. The entire United States Government, in addition to all of our great Afghan team members, have really helped to lay the transition and the progress that we know Afghanistan will make in the decade ahead. We are calling it the Decade of Transformation, because we think we have laid a very strong foundation. The strategic partnership agreement that we signed will guide the enduring partnership between the United States and Afghanistan.
I am going to be announcing formally with President Karzai in just a little bit that President Obama has officially designated Afghanistan as what is called a Major Non-NATO Ally of the United States. There is a very small number of countries that fit into that category. The international community has made concrete commitments to fund the Afghan national security forces. And tomorrow in Tokyo I will be representing the United States at a conference to talk about what we will commit to the civilian side of the equation for Afghanistan's economic development and further progress in governance.
Today, the responsibility for Afghanistan's future rests squarely where it belongs, with the Afghan people themselves. They alone can make the hard choices and the reforms needed to foster peace and stability, unity, and progress. But we can help them as they do that. And each of you is here because you are a believer in this country's future. None of us has any illusions about how hard the road ahead will be. After 2 attacks on the embassy in 12 months, you know the dangers that come with this job. And you know the challenges, as well. But you also know the rewards and the satisfaction that accrue to those who are working hand in hand with the people of Afghanistan.
We like to say that our strategy is fight, talk, build. Well, what does that mean? That means that military professionals, diplomats, development experts, everyone working together in a professional, highly-integrated way. Anything short of that just isn't good enough. And it is hard to do. It is hard to get everybody on that one team for that one fight. But I think this embassy has succeeded brilliantly. At the start of this Administration we laid out the strategic mission: to surge our military and civilian efforts simultaneously and in a coordinated manner. And you have really executed that. And I know it has been at some sacrifice, leaving behind family and friends, working 14, 18, 20-hour days, living in shipping containers, all because you know how much is at stake for the people of this country and for the American people.
Look, I am aware that there are naysayers and cynics who are quick to criticize what we do here. And, unfortunately, the steady progress that you are making doesn't grab the headlines. I am kind of an expert on that. (Laughter.) And I want you to know that a lot of people who count know what you do every single day. Anyone who saw Ambassador Crocker's op ed piece in the Washington Post yesterday knows how valuable you are. And I am proud to share stories of your success everywhere I go.
Look what happened just a few days ago, on July 4th, as we celebrated our own independence. Several tankers exploded at the oil and gas depot here in Kabul. And ISAF forces responded with firefighters and medics. The Afghan Minister of Health reached out to our USAID team to help more than 80 injured people. You responded instantly and expertly. And, because of that, you saved lives and sent yet again a clear message about our commitment to the Afghan people and their futures.
Or look at the women of Helmand who, thanks to you, have learned to organize and advocate on their own behalf. One of our foreign service officers started a dialogue that, over time, grew to include women from throughout the province. They talked about peace-building, reintegration, and how to ensure that their daughters and their sons receive a good education. First they shared their concerns with each other, then with the governor of Helmand Province. They successfully pushed for action for stalled projects. They realized their own power to bring about peaceful change that will benefit them and their families. And those women understand how important your work is.
Ten years ago, Afghanistan did not have a single paved street that wasn't severely damaged. You have helped build roads all over the country that foster connections to new markets. When problems with insurance policies threaten to stop all international flights in and out of Kabul Airport earlier this year, American experts from the Department of Transportation helped the Afghan Government find a solution to keep those commercial flights going. Every person who was able to fly in and out of Afghanistan knows how important your work is.
Our development experts are working outside the wire to help Afghan farmers replace their poppy fields with high-value crops. One farmer recently showed off new fields of grapes and explained how he had already made a profit, much sooner than he had ever expected. Now he has enough money to build his first home. And that farmer and his family know how important your work is.
In eastern Afghanistan we have trained instructors and begun facilitating a program to teach 200 madrasas high school students, half of them women, basic computer and Internet skills. Those students and every Afghan benefiting from our scholarships, our exchanges, our training programs, knows how important your work is.
And I am well aware that some of you have put your lives on the line. When I was here in 2009 I gave the Department of State Award for Heroism to a foreign service officer named Matt Sherman. Matt was on a mission with military colleagues when the lead convoy vehicle struck an IED and flipped. And Matt didn't hesitate; he raced out from the safety of his own vehicle to help the wounded U.S. soldiers. That is the kind of everyday heroism that we see among our embassy staff.
I also want, in particular, to recognize all of our Afghan team members. They risk their lives every day to make their country a better place. And let me mention just one person out of all who are here: Taj. Where is Taj? Taj. (Applause.) Taj has worked for the United States Government for more than 23 years. And when the Taliban fell in 2001, he was our first foreign service national to come back and help reopen the embassy. And today he organizes speaker programs for imams to discuss religious tolerance and women's rights under the Qu'ran, countering extremist voices. He has faced threats, but he has never failed to keep pressing on. And I want to thank you, Taj, for your dedication to your country and your work. (Applause.)
Now, each of you -- we could spend all day hearing each of your stories. Some of you bring potable water for drinking to urban neighborhoods or vaccines to rural communities. Some of you help victims of human trafficking find legal aid and counseling. Some of you work to hammer out agreements that are critical to our future relationship. But no matter which of the 18 U.S. Government departments or agencies you represent, whether you are foreign service or civil service or local Afghan staff, you are all part of the success of this mission here.
We ask a lot of you. I think it is fair to say that nowhere in the world do we face tougher problems, or encounter more unforeseen challenges. To walk a mile in your shoes or to sleep a night in your can takes strength and resolve. I have slept in those cans, and I am aware that this mission is filled with people who wake up every day clear-eyed about the task ahead, but asking, "What can I do today to make a difference," and you have. You have made a difference.
So, on behalf of President Obama and the American people and certainly myself and our entire team in Washington, I want to thank you for all of your work. I am very, very proud to be your colleague and to work alongside you as we help the people of Afghanistan build their own future, and by doing so, help our own country have the kind of future and the kind of world that we want to see happen. It is a great personal honor to serve with you. You make me proud. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)