18 Mar 2010

U.S. Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Paul Jones: U.S. is taking drug problems in Afghanistan extremely serious

U.S. Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Afghanistan and Pakistan Paul W. Jones arrived in Moscow to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and has given an interview to Interfax following his meetings in Moscow.

Question: First of all I would like to ask you about the purpose of your visit?

Answer: The purpose of our visit - we came here as an interagency delegation fr om the National Security Council, fr om the Department of Defense, the Russian office of the State Department and myself and people fr om Ambassador Holbrook’s team - is to continue our conversations with the government of Russia about Afghanistan and the region that Afghanistan finds itself in. I was with Ambassador Holbrook when he visited in November, we had excellent conversations at that point. We have met with Russian officials in Washington, and we really want to deepen the conversation, including before Secretary Clinton’s visit which is coming toward the end of the week. So, we had had a wide range of meetings, we were able to see a few more people than we were able to see when we visited with Ambassador Holbrook. And they were very successful.

Q.: You met people fr om the Foreign Ministry, the Ministry of Defense?

A.: We started out yesterday meeting with, I’ll get his title wrong, Secretary General of the CSTO organization Mr. Bordyuzha, we met this morning with Russia’s ambassador at large to the SCO [] and then Deputy Foreign Minister Borodavkin, we met with deputy director Tsvetkov of the FSKN, because Director Ivanov is in Afghanistan right now.

Q.: Mr. Ivanov? Really?

A.: Yes. He is having a good visit, I think he has a very good schedule. We just came from the Ministry of Defense with General Sukhov from the international cooperation department. We met several of those people before with Ambassador Holbrook, but we had not previously met with the SCO and CSTO, and we wanted to talk with them more about the region.

Q.: So, certain analysts here believe the United States sent its troops to Afghanistan to counterbalance Russia’s military presence in Central Asia. How does the United States regard Russian military bases in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan? Do you consider them as a threat?

A.: We sent troops to Afghanistan because of al-Qaeda. And that is the narrow focus goal of President Obama and the United States is to dismantle and ultimately defeat al-Qaeda in this region. There has been good cooperation from Pakistan, especially recently, in this regard, and we have a significant effort in Afghanistan, particularly regarding the Taliban, which has not ever completely severed its relationship with al-Qaeda. We did not put troops in Afghanistan for any other purpose and we believe that the decisions that other states make are up to them. It‘s not an issue for us.

Q.: And Russia said it wants Afghanistan to have in the future neutral status and no foreign military bases on its territory. What is the U.S. attitude to the issue?

A.: It is an interesting idea that I’ve heard in a number of different places. It strikes me that it’s an idea several people in different countries are coming to – some people have described it as restoring Afghanistan’s status from the 1960s or 1970s. I think it fits with our approach, but we have to discuss more exactly what people mean. As President Obama has said, and said repeatedly, we have no desire for permanent military bases in Afghanistan. So, the idea that Afghanistan not having any military bases from any country sounds logical.

Q.: Are you planning to enlarge your military presence in Central Asia to build more military bases in this region or do you think that in the future there should be no foreign military presence?

A.: You know, we received very significant cooperation from Russia and countries in Central Asia in transit routes for logistics and personnel of our military forces in Afghanistan. I think we have a really remarkable agreement with Russia on transit overflights. There are over 100 flights now, and we are very pleased with that success. There is a significant rail line going into Afghanistan through Russia, others come from different directions, we are now talking about a specific rail line that goes through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. So, those are the kinds of military cooperation, if you can call it that, what we’re interested in, in Central Asia it’s that cooperation that allows our military forces in Afghanistan to be supplied. And we are very pleased with the way it has been going.

Q.: So, it is true that the U.S. military transit starts working...

A.: Yes, that is certainly true…

Q.: And that every day there are one or two flights through Russia with military transit to U.S. forces in Afghanistan and when did it start?

A.: When we were visiting in November there had been a couple of test flights. I don’t know the trajectory, but over the course of the past couple of months it’s become much more regular, and we worked out ways of cooperating that lead us to over 100 flights. I do not how many a day that is right now, how many a week, but it is a significant number and it’s a really significant contribution helping us get our forces and equipment to Afghanistan.

Q.: And is the United States interested in organizing ground military transit to Afghanistan via Russia and is the matter being discussed with Russia?

A.: We have now a rail link. There are several routes that come from different parts of Europe and traverse Russia, there is another one across the Caucasus, and they end up going through Uzbekistan, but a significant number, I mean thousands of containers of equipment transit this route. And that is with the cooperation of Russia, which we very much appreciate.

Q.: This is non-lethal equipment, is not it?

A.: That is right. It’s not weapons, it’s not lethal supplies. Those are construction and humanitarian goods.

Q.: Are you discussing and have you discussed with the Russian side the ground military transit?

A.: Yes. We have the air military transit. You know with the growth in our troops in Afghanistan, we are looking at ways to supply them with everything that they need, including armored vehicles and things like that. We do not have formal proposals at this stage, but I think we are looking at how to increase the ability to put our supplies and equipment into Afghanistan.

Q.: We know about the tensions between the Turkey and the U.S., and we know that Turkey is helping much to the international forces in Afghanistan. Georgia has offered its territory for cargo transit for the international forces in Afghanistan. Does the United States intend to take up this offer?

A.: Well, the trend that we see regarding Afghanistan is that more and more countries are contributing in one way or another, and we have very deliberately over the past year of the Obama administration tried to welcome each country’s contributions to stability and prosperity in Afghanistan. And a lot of countries have come forward. As you mentioned Turkey has come forward. They have opened a provincial reconstruction team and do some more humanitarian projects. And Georgia has offered a battalion to the international forces. There are transit routes that go through the Caucasus, I do not exactly know what the route they take is. We do not take this as a sort of indication of political decisions, we try to welcome and encourage all countries to contribute as they can in Afghanistan.

Q.: Russian officials have said that they are ready to deliver weapons and military vehicles, including helicopters, to Afghanistan at the expense of the international funds that the United States and its allies assign for reinforcing the Afghan army and police. Moscow has pointed out that today with U.S. money the Afghan army and police are supplied with analogs of Soviet and Russian weapons produced without proper licenses in East European countries. What do you think about the idea to supply weapons with the U.S. money to Afghanistan? The Russian side said that Afghan soldiers are accustomed to Soviet weapons?

A.: One of the themes that we have been talking about during the visit last November and this visit, many meetings in Washington and elsewhere is that it is up to Russia to decide what it wants to contribute in Afghanistan. I think there was, may be, a sense over the previous years that the U.S wants to keep other countries out of Afghanistan, that we wanted to do everything ourselves. We’ve tried to change that and we’ve tried to encourage the Afghan government and Afghan people to take the lead in deciding which countries they would like to accept contributions from, and frankly they are quite open and they need a lot of help. So, I do not want to get into too many specifics but, if Russia would like to offer contributions beyond what it has already offered, I think there will be a great willingness to talk about that. Certainly the Afghan side needs to take a leading role, but the international security forces particularly do a lot of training and equipping of the Afghan army and police, so we would love to be involved in that conversation as well.

Q.: So, you are not against Russia supplying its weapons to the Afghan army?

A.: No. We’d like to talk about it and see how that fits in with the needs of the Afghan security forces.

Q.: The U.S. wants to start moving its forces from Afghanistan by the end of the next year. Are you sure that Afghan security forces are able to calm the situation to guarantee stability in the country?

A.: It’s a very good question, and I think there is a lot of misunderstanding. What we’ve said is that in July of 2011 our additional forces that President Obama has sent in will have been there for just about a year at that stage. And at that stage we will look to start the transition of districts and provinces in Afghanistan over to the Afghan national security forces. We will do that on the basis of the conditions in each area in Afghanistan and what the security forces are capable of doing at that time. So, the Afghan security forces are in a very rapid training and equipping program now. Their recruitment is going very well, above their goals. And we are confident that by July 2011 they will be able to secure some areas of the country wh ere currently the international forces are operating. But how quickly that goes depends on the situation on the ground. We are not going to do it any faster, any slower that the situation on the ground requires and the ability of the Afghan security forces. But I have to say that the Afghan security forces, the Afghan government is very interested in this. They have long said that they wanted to take back their country, and President Karzai made this statement in his inaugural address. There is a great incentive for them to move as quickly as they can to take over security responsibility in the parts of the country that they can and to move as quickly as the conditions allow.

Q.: So, the international forces will stay in Afghanistan as long as it is needed? There is no fixed time?

A.: Right. There is no fixed time. You know July 2011 is the peak. How quickly we are able to reduce, depends on conditions on the ground. Our civilian presence is going to stay a long time and our civilian assistance. There is a lot of concern in the region that maybe the United States will just walk away from Afghanistan, as we did in 1990s. And that is not going to happen. We are going to remain committed to Afghanistan with economic assistance, diplomatically, with our trading relationship. We are going to try to make sure that Afghanistan has solid partners in the international community, and the United States will remain one of them. Our combat and military forces, we’re going to see whether we can reduce them and Afghans can take over that responsibility.

Q.: We read about the Moshtarak operation, and some say that that operation was just a prelude, and entry to taking control over Kandahar. Is that true? Are the U.S. forces planning more ambitious operations in Afghanistan?

A.: Well certainly, the operation in Marjah that is going on now is just one step in a process that will continue. General McChrystal took a very different approach in Marjah than the international forces have taken before. We waited to make sure that the Afghan civilian government and the Afghan military were ready to go into Marjah with us, so that this operation is as Afghan led as possible. About ten or twelve days of the Marjah operation we reached a very important milestone, and that was the number of town meetings, Shurahs, exceeded the number of military engagements. And that’s what we want to have happened in each of the areas that the international forces go in, is very quickly for civilian governments to start to take hold with an Afghan lead. So, I think you will see that sort of model in other areas, including in Kandahar. Kandahar is difficult, it is a different situation. Another significant piece of going into Marjah. Marjah is the center point of the nexus between the insurgency and narcotics industry in Afghanistan. And there has been a lot of misunderstanding I think of how important fighting narcotics and opium production in Afghanistan is. To us it is extremely important, we recognize how important it is for Afghanistan, how critical it is for countries like Russia, and going into Marjah is key to breaking that connection between the insurgency and narcotics industry in Afghanistan.

Q.: What part of Afghanistan is controlled now by the Taliban? Is it a large part?

A.: You know it is a very mixed picture. You have to go down and look at each district, and there are 364 districts in Afghanistan, and many of the districts – if you take a very basic look at Afghanistan sometimes people say: ‘Well all these districts are controlled by the Taliban’, but when you look at a district itself, you find that in fact the Taliban did not come in and take over this district, they formed an alliance with the traditional leader of this district, so people now say that the Taliban are in control. That can shift quite quickly. So, wh ere the Taliban really is in control, mostly in parts of the South and in pockets, they have significant presence in pockets of the North wh ere there is a traditionally Pashtun tribe representation. But it is very hard to speak about Afghanistan as a big picture. You really have to go down to the district level. And that is why we think it is so important this re-integration program that President Karzai announced at his inauguration, and that he is developing a policy for and the international community has set up a trust fund to help fund and support this program. If Taliban foot soldiers and local commanders accept the Afghan Constitution, if they renounce al-Qaeda, and if they lay down arms and cease violence against the government, there will be a program for them to receive livelihood support and security. And that we think has great potential at the local level in Afghanistan for shifting them into.

Q.: What is going on with al-Qaeda? We know that Osama bin Laden was reportedly somewhere near the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan and why do Western allies and the U.S. still fail to track down and neutralize him? Perhaps, he is not a real figure, perhaps he is a myth?

A.: He is hard to find but this has been the case with many individuals that countries have tried to find. You know if a person spends his whole life trying to hide he is hard to find. But there are al-Qaeda in the border area of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and those are the people who are really plotting and threatening our country, your country and many countries around the world. So, the focus of our strategy is how to isolate them and defeat them. It will take cooperation from Pakistan, from Afghanistan, who knows whether Osama bin Laden will turn up. But there are clearly some al-Qaeda fighters who need to be defeated in that area for the security of our countries of the world.

Q.: And perhaps the last question about the black list of the UN Security Council. We know that some people suggest to review the sanction list of the UN Security Council, and as far as the Taliban is concerned to remove them or the list needs to be enlarged. What is your opinion?

A.: Well, Russia was the most recent country to take action in agreeing to remove five names that have been requested by the Afghan government. I think it is important that this list is real and dynamic, that those countries on the committee and in the P5 [five permanent members of the UN Security Council] that contribute to the list as well as Afghanistan think of adding, think of taking away. In order to have the impact that a list like that needs to have it needs to be updated live to the extent that countries can review names, suggest names for taking off or adding. I think this is a good thing for the impact of those sanctions.

Q.: What about the idea of reviewing this list?

A.: Well, I think as I said, individual countries are always going through that process, and that’s what leads to the names coming on and coming off.

Q.: Russia criticizes the United States, the international forces that they do nothing about drug trafficking from Afghanistan?

A.: Well, I think it important that [FSKN] Director Ivanov is in Afghanistan today. And he is meeting at our embassy, as well as many other, with Afghan officials. Merely seeing on the ground a kind of international cooperation to support Afghan efforts against the drug problem. Our bilateral dialog is growing and our bilateral cooperation is growing on the drug issue in Afghanistan. We really recognize how important it is. And it is a central part of our strategy. I do not think it has always been so well communicated because people are getting confused by this issue of eradication, who’s eradicating, no eradication. The United States supports a comprehensive policy. We do support, we actually fund. When the Afghan government and governors want to eradicate poppy in their provinces, the United States puts money for that. We also have a fund for governors to receive incentives and assistance when their provinces are poppy-free, so that again encourages them. We have tripled the number of DEA agents in Afghanistan working on operations with our international forces, with the Afghans, as well training. Three of them were killed in the last few months, as well as numerous members of our security forces, when they have been going in and seizing precursor chemicals and drugs, so we are taking the problems extremely seriously, and I am very glad that our conversations, particularly since the visit of our drug control director Kerlikowske was here in February, had very good conversations. And I think there is greater and greater understanding, and I think at the operational level we are also just beginning to be able to work better and more closely with Russia and Central Asian countries, because it’s obviously a major route from wh ere the drugs come from.

Q.: Did you hand over the list of 50 drug barons that Mr. Ivanov hoped to get some time ago?

A.: I am not an expert on operational aspects. I do not want to comment on that because I am not really familiar with that issue, but we are increasingly working together.

Q.: Thank you very much.

A.: Thank you so much.