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Background Briefing by Senior Administration Official on Air Force Two en route Kabul

Air Force Two
En route Kabul, Afghanistan

6:33 P.M. (Local)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Thanks.  Can you all hear, more or less? 
So we are setting down in Afghanistan in about 40 minutes, if all goes well.  And this evening the Vice President will be meeting with General Petraeus and Ambassador Eikenberry.  He’ll be spending probably about an hour, a little more, with them, just to get a briefing from them in advance of tomorrow; get an update from them on the situation on the ground.  And that’ll be the evening’s events.
Tomorrow he starts -- the Vice President starts out with a meet-and-greet with Embassy personnel.  He’ll have a chance to thank the Embassy team for the incredibly hard work they do in very difficult conditions. 
After that we go out to a training site for the Afghan National Security Forces, so he’ll be able to see firsthand the status of the training program, the work that General Caldwell and others are doing to help build the Afghan army, the Afghan police.  We’ll helo out there. 
We’ll come back, and then the Vice President will meet with President Karzai.  We’ll be having lunch with President Karzai.  I expect there will be a larger group meeting, including with Ambassador Eikenberry, General Petraeus, the team that's traveling with the Vice President, President Karzai’s team.  And then I expect there will be also be some one-on-one time between the Vice President and President Karzai.
In the afternoon after the lunch and the meeting, we’re heading out to a site to see the efforts we’re making in a particular area, which we’ll tell you about tomorrow, to do counter-insurgency, looking at the results of the program in a particular place. 
And after that we’ll fly back to Bagram Air Base.  The Vice President will get a series of briefings there from some of the leaders in the military operation.  In particular he’ll be getting a briefing on the counter-terrorism program and the efforts we’re making in that area.
And that pretty much concludes what will be by then a very long day.  We overnight in Afghanistan, and we can tell you more about the following days at the end of tomorrow.  So let me leave it at that.
Q Can you tell us if there’s anything in particular the Vice President hopes to accomplish on this visit?  Anything he might want to say to President Karzai?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Well, I think the visit comes at an important time, as this is really a pivot point in our policy.  We’ve moved from the surge last year to the transition to Afghan lead that will be starting this year and concluding ultimately in 2014.  And so I think what he wants to do in the first instance is to assess the progress we’re making toward transition.  And hence the different briefings that he’ll be having and the different visits he’ll be making.
With President Karzai, I think we’re very much on the same page.  After Lisbon and after our review in December, we’re in agreement, President Karzai is in agreement, the NATO and ISAF allies are in agreement that 2011 marks the beginning of the transition to Afghan lead, Afghan responsibility.  By 2014 the Afghans will be in the lead throughout the country, as President Karzai suggested.  And so this is a very good moment at which to assess the progress we’re making toward starting the transition. 
The work that remains to be done, the review, pointed out both the progress as well as some of the open issues that we need to work on.  And this is an opportunity for the Vice President to discuss all of that with President Karzai as well as our commitment to work out a long-term bilateral relationship between the United States and Afghanistan.
Q But 2014 is our goal to have all combat forces withdrawn?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  2014 is our goal, I think, as the President said, to have Afghans in the lead throughout the country in Afghanistan.  The Afghans will be taking lead responsibility in every district and province of Afghanistan.  That's the goal.
Q But we might -- we may have combat forces in Afghanistan in 2014?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I’m not going to speculate on what we may or may not have in 2014 or beyond.  What we do know and what's agreed is that the Afghans will be in the lead throughout the country. 
Q What do you think -- when Karzai is out saying things like he did just a couple of days ago -- he doesn’t want foreigners meddling in the country, and, you know, rhetoric like that, what's your response to that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Look, I think that no one wants foreigners in their country, and it’s not -- the whole point of what we’re doing is transitioning to Afghan lead and Afghan responsibility.  President Obama was very clear during the review.  We’re not here to govern Afghanistan.  We’re not here to nation-build.  We’re not here to secure Afghanistan (inaudible).  Those are responsibilities that belong to the Afghans. 
And the only purpose of our mission now is to help put the Afghans in a position where they can fully assume the responsibilities of governing the country, of securing the country.  That's exactly what the President’s vision is, and it’s also President Karzai’s vision, as I understand it.
Q Does the Vice President have any specific message for Karzai in his meetings?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I'll let the Vice President speak for himself tomorrow.  He’ll be making a statement after the meeting with President Karzai, so any message he will have delivered --
Q When did Karzai get a heads up that he was coming?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Oh, I think at some point last week.  I don't remember the exact date.
Q At the Afghan training facility that he’s going to visit, do you know approximately how many Afghans are currently being trained right now?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  At that exact facility we’ll have to get you the information.  We’ll get you that tomorrow.
Q Do you expect that there will be a reduction in forces this year -- U.S. forces?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  Yes.  In terms of U.S. national forces, again the President has been very, very clear on this.  In July of 2011, we will begin a drawdown of U.S. forces.  The pace (inaudible) with that drawdown is conditions-based, as we’ve said, so we’ll see where we are in July.  But yes, there will be a drawdown of U.S. forces starting in July.
Q I’m sorry, I’m confused.  I thought at Lisbon the agreement was among Afghanistan, NATO and the U.S. that the U.S. would pull out all its combat forces by 2014.  The Vice President has said we’re going to be totally out of there.  So --
Q Right, but as I understand the agreement, where things stand is that there is an agreement that by 2014 Afghans will assume lead responsibility for security throughout the country in every district, in every province, et cetera.  What ongoing role, if any, there will be for U.S. forces, for international security forces is to be determined.
Q Will corruption be on -- is corruption on the Vice President’s agenda for his discussions with President Karzai?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL:  I’m going to let him speak for himself tomorrow after the meeting with President Karzai.
Q Thank you very much.
6:41 P.M. (Local)

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