The Middle East Digest provides text and audio from the Daily Press Briefing. For the full briefings, please visit daily press briefings.
From the Daily Press Briefing of July 2, 2009
MR. KELLY: As we look to the Fourth of July, our national holiday, I’m very cognizant of the fact that my counterparts – not my counterparts, my colleagues, my fellow citizens are now in harm’s way in Afghanistan in the Helmand region. So my thoughts and prayers go out to them and their families.
I want to give you a little bit of an – some information about the involvement of the State Department and USAID in Helmand. We are well positioned for the immediate assistance effort that will follow clearing operations that were launched by the Marines in the last 24 hours. State and the U.S. Agency for International Development currently have two officers who are directly linked with the Marines in the operation in Helmand. They’ve been in Helmand for over two years. We understand that they’re highly regarded by their Marine colleagues, and are some of the most experienced civilian experts that we have in Afghanistan. An additional USAID officer will arrive in Helmand this weekend, with three more to follow in the next couple of weeks. These are stabilization experts from our Office of Transition Initiatives, as well as senior development advisors who will be working directly with the Marines to assist with holding and building.
These added civilians are part of the larger increase of more than 450 civilians that State and other civilian agencies are sending to Afghanistan to work alongside our military personnel. Their deployments have been and will continue to be closely coordinated by Embassy Kabul and U.S. Forces Afghanistan.
And with that, I’ll be happy to take your questions.
Yeah. Kirit. QUESTION:
Are you planning on sending any more to supplement those? I guess you’ve mentioned three so far. Do you expect that to increase? MR. KELLY:
Well, I – as I said, we have two more – we two there now, and we have another one who is planning to arrive this weekend. But then, as I said, we also have this larger civilian effort that we’ll roll out over the next few months. QUESTION:
So there will be something –MR. KELLY:
Well, this is – the larger civilian effort is – and this is part of our plan to help Afghanistan in general. I’m not aware of exactly where they’ll be positioned within Afghanistan. QUESTION:
Could we see – how many civilians in Afghanistan by the end of the year? Do you have any idea? MR. KELLY:
I’m not sure of the exact timeline, Lach. But the number is 450, but I’m not sure exactly what the timeline is. It could be a rolling thing and the numbers would go up and down according to transfers and redeployments.QUESTION:
Will Blackwater be providing the State Department the same services performed in Iraq and Afghanistan? And if so, would you need an increase in Blackwater’s services due to a possible increase in your personnel there?MR. KELLY:
Well, of course, we – whenever – wherever Foreign Service personnel are deployed around the world, of course, their security is very important. And we do assess the situation on the ground and make a determination based on the situation on the ground. Of course, the situation in Afghanistan is – it’s a very dangerous environment.
I’m not aware of the exact details of what kind of security arrangements we’ll have for any kind of increased Foreign Service personnel in Afghanistan. And, frankly, I’m not sure we’d want to share that kind of information. But if we do have that kind of information, I’ll be happy to provide it.QUESTION:
So you won’t be able to let me know if there’ll be an increase in Blackwater personnel or a decrease?MR. KELLY:
Well, first of all, I’m not aware of whether or not it will be required. I would expect we would need increased security personnel there, but I’m just not aware of what exactly is needed.QUESTION:
And last question -- MR. KELLY:
-- on the same subject. There was apparently a shooting between some Blackwater security guards and a civilian Afghanistan, and I was wondering if -- MR. KELLY:
I haven’t seen those reports.
Al Jazeera English, also on Afghanistan. The President’s strategy is calling for increased diplomacy and humanitarian assistance. What factored into the decision to only have those two civilians that you mentioned there right now, and not more? MR. KELLY:
Well, what we have going on right now – and of course, I’ll have to refer you to the Pentagon for the exact details of the combat operation going on. But what we are preparing to do, of course, is – well, first of all, we have these two advisors who are on the ground, have been there for more than two years, are very familiar with the local situation, very familiar with the local government there. They’ve been working with them for two years.
But in terms of other factors, I’m just – I’m not sure. In fact, if you could repeat your question. I kind of -- QUESTION:
Yeah, I mean, just why aren’t there more than two diplomats there to start off? MR. KELLY:
Oh, okay. So we’re starting off with the – I mean, it’s the combat operation now. What we are positioning ourselves to do is to go in behind this combat operation and be part of the build part of hold-and-build.QUESTION:
And then is there a plan set up for how many diplomats will go at a certain increment of time, or is that not set?MR. KELLY:
Yeah, I just don’t have the exact details of how – who would go, how many will go, to what exact areas. I think here part of it will be dictated by the circumstances.
Kirit, did you have a question? QUESTION:
Just on another topic unless somebody – back to Afghanistan. Do you have anything to say about this soldier that’s apparently been kidnapped? Do you have any information about him or is he -- MR. KELLY:
Apparently, an ISAF soldier has been kidnapped in Afghanistan. MR. KELLY:
No, I don’t have any information on that. I’d refer you to the Pentagon.
Did the Palestinian prime minister meet with Senator Mitchell yesterday? And can you give us a read-out on the Secretary’s meeting with him, if you don’t mind?MR. KELLY:
Yeah, I can give you a read-out of the Secretary’s meeting with him. I’m not – I’ll see if I can get you information on any other meetings that he had.
You know that the President and Secretary are very committed to achieving comprehensive peace, and this is part of this – of these efforts to try and achieve a comprehensive peace. The Secretary and the prime minister had a productive meeting and covered a wide range of issues, including the way forward on economic and security matters, and also political progress. Our goal is to foster the conditions for successful negotiations and the creation of a Palestinian state. This includes support, of course, for the Palestinian Authority as a partner for peace with Israel.
Another issue?MR. KELLY:
Any reaction to Vice President Biden in Iraq, and particularly recent comments from the White House that the Vice President is overseeing Iraq policy? And some would say that this is possibly Secretary Clinton’s role to oversee Iraq policy. MR. KELLY:
Yeah, I’m not sure of these comments that you refer to that the Secretary should oversee this. QUESTION:
The White House comments were that Biden was overseeing Iraq policy. MR. KELLY:
Yeah, Charley, I’m just going to refer your question to the White House.
Yeah. Way in the back. QUESTION:
Can you take the question on the Blackwater shooting in Afghanistan? MR. KELLY:
(The briefing was concluded at 1:35 p.m.)
DPB # 111