“… in ways that very few people have known our country.“ I agree. What every single person I have ever met, both soldier or contractor, who has ever worked/served in Afghanistan has said the same thing to me: the Afghan people are unique and Afghanistan gets under your skin, forever.
Today, we’ve been very privileged – Dr. Abdullah and I and our colleagues – to engage in a discussion that characterizes a discussion among enduring partners. First of all, again, I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the men and women in uniform who have done the ultimate sacrifice: 2,215 Americans have lost – members of the armed forces have lost their lives; numerous members of the Secret Service and civilians. They will be part of our enduring memories, and we pay tribute to them. Equally, over 20,000 American military members have been wounded in action. We pray for their recovery and we hope that their families will recover from the trauma.
American troops – around 850,000 plus contractors – have gotten to know us in ways that very few people have known our country. They know locations that most Afghans probably don’t. They served in the highest peaks, in the most difficult deserts, and the barest of places with the minimum – with minimum support structures. But what they brought was a difference in attitude. We Afghans are fiercely proud, but we always know the difference between those who come in anger and those who come to support us.
It’s not Dr. Abdullah and I alone who want to say thank you. The parliament of Afghanistan by overwhelmingly supporting the Bilateral Security Agreement, previously the consultative Loya Jirga endorsing this, speaks for a consensus. This is a foundational relationship, and we are very proud that this relationship will be transformed into an enduring relationship.
The government of national unity is an enduring phenomenon, and one of its key characteristics is its honesty in dealing with the balance sheet that we have inherited. We have had accomplishments. but we also have inherited corruption, impunity regarding rule of law, gender disparities, disparities between rich and poor, and the enduring poverty – 36 percent of our population still lives under the poverty line. Our determination is to make sure that our people live not just in peace, but with dignity and prosperity.
And on behalf of the unity government, President Ghani spoke this morning eloquently and that was expression of our thoughts, our feelings towards your servicemen, towards your country, towards your people. I join him in every word, and our commitment to make the unity government a functioning – a more functioning idea – not only idea, but an opportunity for the people of Afghanistan and opportunity for our partners is that we still rely on your support, but we are moving towards self-reliance. And as a result of that, Afghanistan will be a better place. Our region will be a more prosperous place.
Once again, thank you.