Well, it is good to be back and it’s wonderful to see all of you. I apologize for keeping you waiting. I understand you had to come in early because of security, but it’s cool – (laughter) – and so it’s a mixed blessing. And it’s really a privilege and honor to be here. I want to thank Ambassador and Mrs. Eikenberry. Once again, they were very gracious hosts in putting all of us up as we made this trip here for the Kabul conference. I want to thank Ambassador James Keith, Ambassador Bill Todd, Ambassador Hans Klemm, Ambassador Tony Wayne – just a lot of ambassadors. (Laughter.) Yeah, we got a whole stable full of ambassadors.
But mostly, I want to thank all of you. We have a tremendous team here and I know that each and every one of you are doing your very best to fulfill the mission that we have set for ourselves. And I am so proud that I get to work with you. You are truly on the front lines of American foreign policy and your efforts to strengthen the government and people of Afghanistan so that they are able to chart their own course toward a future they choose is especially important today in this world where there are so many who doubt whether it’s possible or not.
I said earlier at the conference that I know that there are many of our citizens back home who wonder whether this can be a success. Well, I have two answers to that. First of all, yes it can. And secondly, it has to. This is in America’s vital national security interest for us to work with the people and Government of to secure a stable, prosperous future.
And in the past year, we have done so much to try to make good on that promise. We have fulfilled our pledge to triple our civilian capacity on the ground in Afghanistan, and as you know, we are still growing. I am well aware we’ve had a lot of growing pains – (laughter) – and a lot of cramped quarters, and I thank you for your indulgence as we try to catch up with the movement of people here for this important work. We’re building additional facilities as quickly as possible, and while we all look forward to having an improved complex for you, you’re going to have to endure some construction and noise in the meantime, which is, I hope, a small price to pay.
I appreciate your patience and I appreciate your dedication, and I’m devoted to your safety and security, which is why we are improving the facilities as well as expanding them. Your security is a primary concern to me and our team back in Washington, as it is to the ambassador and the team here. I know that this is a high-stress, high-pressure, high-exposure, high-stakes environment, and there is no way to fully catalog the sacrifice that you are making with a more restricted lifestyle in order to serve our country. I know many of you have left families back at home this past Christmas. I had a Christmas party for children of the unaccompanied officers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, and there was more than one little boy or girl who proudly told me that their mom or dad was here in Afghanistan. But I recognize that that puts a lot of pressure on you, being so far away – thanks for Skype and other things that make it a little better – but also for those who stay behind.
As the summer wears on, we move with our military engagement into the southern provinces, and obviously, that requires even more vigilance and precautions. There was a rocket attack on the airport last night and one of the press asked me if I thought that was a welcome for me. And I said no, I think it’s just recognizing that the people who are launching the rockets don’t want the kind of Afghanistan we all do and they don’t know what to do about it other than to engage in violent activity.
We have a great civilian-military leadership team here, and both Ambassador Eikenberry and General Petraeus, Special Representative Holbrooke, all of us, are working hard to try to chart the way forward in this very difficult assignment. And I’m aware too that we have a diverse staff. It’s not just State and AID, although that’s the bulk of the people here in this complex, but military personnel, agricultural experts, specialists in subjects ranging from crisis stabilization to rule of law to women’s rights. Even some former retirees who just couldn't bear being on the sidelines have come back into the action.
And each and every one of you makes a very important contribution. We see it all the time in the reports that we are given. And I think that for me, this Kabul conference was a real milestone. A couple of the foreign ministers referred to it as a turning point, and I hope they’re right, because it was clearly Afghan-led. I know how much work many of you did in order to make it successful today. But the Afghan Government pulled together a very specific, detail-oriented plan. We, along with our international partners, will be working to operationalize it and to inject accountability measures into it. The long extra hours that you put in, I think really paid off.
I am also aware that as we look at the road ahead, there is a lot of concern about how we maintain a presence here when you have to be so restricted. For some of you who are Foreign Service officers or development experts, that’s just not the way you usually operate. And I understand that and I hope that as the security situation improves, your mobility will improve as well. But I am very conscious of how important it is that we bring you home safely, and that’s part of my commitment to you.
The Kabul conference today was not only very well attended, but notably had a large number of representatives at the foreign minister level from Muslim-majority countries and Arab countries who are really recognizing the significance of their involvement here. And at the end of the conference, President Karzai thanked everyone for coming and he especially thanked the representatives of Muslim countries, because he said we are showing the true face of Islam, not the extremists, not the radicals, not the haters, but we are. And I thought that was a good summary, because what was apparent today was the unity of purpose among people from across the world.
I want to recognize our brave locally engaged staff members. I am well aware local staff members form the backbone of our embassies around the world, and their service is not just critical; it’s essential. We couldn't open our doors without you. And often, because you live in the community, the risks for you are even greater than for our American staff. Many of our locally engaged staff continued working at the Embassy during the years of Taliban rule. I understand that Saed Rahman has been with us since 1983, and I remember meeting you when I was here so many years ago. (Applause.)
I also want to welcome back Hameed Sultani from the INL team, who was wounded in a terrorist attack last year but has returned to work for us once again. (Applause.)
And of course, we remember our fallen colleagues, civilian and military, who are not with us today because of the sacrifice that they made. We honor their memories, and the work we do now and tomorrow is one of the best ways we can fulfill their hopes and see the realization of the cause that they died for even as we mourn their loss.
So all of you – civilian, military, locally engaged staff – please know how proud we are of you, take encouragement from the fact that we value the work that you are doing. As President Obama said to you when he was here, think about you all the time, even though we are half a world away. I know some of you are getting ready to leave and I thank you for your service, and some of you are newly arrived with more to come and I welcome you to Kabul. And I ask you to serve with the same level of dedication that those who have gone before you have set as a very high standard.
So thank you for everything you’re doing for the United States, for the American people, for Afghanistan, and the Afghan people. I am on my way to Seoul, South Korea, to meet Secretary Gates for a meeting there, and I will take with me the image of all of you and the memories of this day along with my many other memories of Afghanistan. My very first trip here back – oh my goodness, I think it was 2003 – I went into downtown Kabul, went to a restaurant for dinner. I visited the library and a museum that was just reopening. And it is my hope and prayer that on one of my future visits, either as Secretary of State or private citizen, I will be able to do the same again.
Thank you all very much. (Applause.)