Defense Secretary Reassures Afghan Leader U.S. Will 'Maintain Our Commitment'

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, in Afghanistan today to thank U.S. troops and to visit with senior Afghan officials, declared that the Taliban had failed in their year-end mission to take a provincial capital and reassured President Ashraf Ghani that the next administration would "remain committed" to Afghanistan.

Despite noting that the Taliban had missed their year-end goal, the Obama administration decided that the security situation there -- with not only the Taliban but their al-Qaeda and Haqqani network allies as well as ISIS -- has warranted retaining a troop level of 8,448 through 2017 instead of 5,500 as previously planned.

Carter also said in joint remarks with Ghani that the United States "will continue to maintain our financial commitment to the Afghanistan National Defense & Security Forces through 2020."

"And with these American commitments made, NATO, in turn, committed to continuing the Resolute Support mission. And at the same time, the overall international community combined pledges to the ANDSF of approximately $5 billion per year through 2020," Carter added. "These robust American commitments in authorities and forces and finances will ensure we not only continue supporting our Afghan partners, but also continue our counter-terrorism mission well into the future to ensure no terrorist group can seek safe haven such that it can threaten the stability of Afghanistan, of the U.S. homeland or of the coalition."

Carter noted that "throughout history, Afghans have been known as fierce fighters," and over the past 15 years "the world has come to admire the bravery and determination of the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces as they build a prosperous future for all Afghan people."

Ghani said he told Carter that "your confidence on a stable Afghanistan, your confidence on a secure Afghanistan, is one of the keys to the peace and stability and that has been very important for us."

"The forces of the United States of America have stood alongside by us shoulder to shoulder, have provided us with the assistance and have stood alongside by us at our side during your tenure of the international force of mission completed. So we would like to thank all the American forces who, in our soil, have sacrificed and have stood alongside by us," the Afghan leader added. "We would like to thank them and we would like to ask you to please thank them, particularly I would like to request you for the families of those soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom of us and for the safety of you, who have sacrificed their lives, I'd like to finally ask you to thank those families, because the nation of Afghanistan is a nation that recognizes and acknowledges the support and assistance."

"We have always been able to differentiate between our friends and between our foes. You have been one continuous friend of Afghanistan and we are proud of it."

At a press conference with Gen. John Nicholson, commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, Carter said Ghani told him that the troop and financial commitments "both physically and in morale terms strengthened the Afghan government and the Afghan security forces."

"For the Americans, we always remember what brought us here in the first place, which is our need to make sure that this is never again a place from which terrorist attacks arise against the United States and we have an opportunity here to maintain a counterterrorism platform in a part of the world where that's very important," he added.

Carter said the Trump transition team has not asked yet to speak with Gen. Nicholson about the Resolute Support mission.

"Our policy of having an enduring counterterrorism effort alongside of our Afghan partners is, in my view, very sound and something we need to continue," Nicholson told reporters. "If you look at this past year in terms of our counterterrorism effort, we have focused on al-Qaeda and Islamic State in particular with great success and we wish to continue that. So I think the fundamental logic is very sound."

Nicholson said al-Qaeda and its branch al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, both operating within Afghanistan, "have the intent and the capability to conduct attacks outside of Afghanistan," including in the United States.