Thank you, Mr. President. And let me begin by congratulating you on assuming the Presidency of the Council and thanking the Ambassador of Gabon for his very able leadership last month.
Special Representative de Mistura, Ambassador Tanin, thank you both. Special Representative de Mistura I want to thank you for your briefing this morning and for your continued exceptional service in Afghanistan. Please also convey to UNAMA staff the deep and abiding gratitude of the United States for the critical work they do in the face of considerable hardship.
Mr. President, that hardship was again made tragically clear on April 1, when a mob attacked the UNAMA compound in Mazar-e-Sharif, resulting in the deaths of seven UN staff members. We reiterate to their families and loved ones our deepest condolences. As always, we stand with the United Nations in the face of such a brutal assault. And again we urge fellow member states to provide the United Nations with the resources it needs to reinforce its facilities and protect its staff.
Mr. President, let me briefly highlight three top priorities for my government in Afghanistan.
First, as President Obama recently said, July marks the beginning of a responsible transition that will see Afghan forces gradually taking the lead in securing their own country. By 2014, this process of transition will be complete, and the Afghan people will be responsible for their own security.
As Afghan security forces move into the lead, the United States will continue to reduce its military footprint, and our mission will change from combat to support. As President Obama announced last month, the United States will withdraw 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year. The remaining 23,000 “surge” troops he announced in December 2009 will leave Afghanistan by the end of summer 2012.
President Obama made this decision from a position of strength. We have made significant progress towards our goals. The U.S. military surge, together with additional troops committed by our allies and partners, has helped stabilize more of the country and shifted the momentum away from the insurgency. Afghan security forces have improved in quality and grown by more than 100,000 troops. In some areas, these improvements have already allowed for the transition of responsibility for security to the Afghan National Security Forces.
In the face of violence, terror, and intimidation, as Ambassador Tanin noted, Afghans are defending their country, establishing local police forces, reopening markets and schools, and creating new opportunities for women and girls. We will continue to support them as they reclaim their country after decades of strife, long after our military mission has ended.
Second, even as we pursue this transition to Afghan security responsibility, we are redoubling our efforts to pursue a peaceful end to this conflict. We support Afghan-led initiatives to reconcile the Afghan people, including the Taliban. We have taken tangible steps to advance Afghan reconciliation and reintegration initiatives, including support to the Afghan High Peace Council and provincial police and reintegration councils.
As Secretary of State Clinton said in February and as President Obama reiterated in June, the necessary outcomes of any negotiation would have to include a commitment by reconciling insurgents to renounce violence, abandon any alliance with al-Qaeda, and abide by the Afghan constitution, including its protections for women.
As evidence of our seriousness, we champion the Council's decision to split the 1267 sanctions regime and establish distinct sanctions for al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Resolution 1988 is an important tool for promoting reconciliation while isolating extremists and it sends a clear message to the Taliban: there is a future for those willing to rejoin the fold of peaceful Afghan society.
Finally, Mr. President, let me touch briefly on an important part of Afghanistan's democratic development: its electoral system.
Last year's parliamentary elections, the first run by Afghans since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, represented a historic step for the Afghan people. Afghan electoral institutions—the Independent Electoral Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission—demonstrated professionalism throughout the process. They performed admirably, despite a difficult security environment and allegations of fraud.
We are consulting closely with Afghan officials and our international partners, including UNAMA, on the recent announcement by the Special Elections Tribunal, which called for the electoral results of 62 seats in the Wolesi Jirga to be overturned. We urge Afghanistan’s political leaders and all Afghan institutions to act within their clearly defined areas of competence in accordance with the Afghan constitution and electoral law - preserving the necessary system of checks and balances between the judicial, executive, and legislative branches. The United States has been clear and consistent about the need for Afghanistan to detect and deal with fraud related to the election process, in accordance with the Afghan constitution and democratic principles, as provided for by the mechanisms of the Independent Electoral Commission. It is important that Afghanistan's parliament fulfill its constitutional role on behalf of the Afghan people.
Meanwhile, we must continue to strengthen the capacity of Afghanistan's electoral institutions. Long-term electoral reform remains key to the country's democratic future. As we look to the 2014 presidential elections and beyond, we must ensure that we learn the lessons of the last several years for the benefit of Afghanistan's democratic future.
Mr. President, 2011 is a pivotal year which will be capped by an international gathering in Bonn in December, marking 10 years since the international community joined with the Afghan people to help chart a new path together. The last decade has seen great hardship and sacrifice. But it has also produced real progress. With common purpose and sustained commitment, we will continue to help the Afghan people build a more peaceful and prosperous future.
Thank you, Mr. President.
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