Last year marked the end of an era in Afghanistan, with two historic transitions, a political and a security transition. Despite threats from Taliban insurgents, millions of Afghans voted for a new president, which resulted in the September inauguration of a new Unity government headed by President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah.
The transition from the old administration to the new was the first peaceful and democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan’s history. And finally, on December 31st, America’s combat mission in Afghanistan ended and Afghan forces took over full responsibility for security across their country.
And with that, a new chapter began in U.S.-Afghan relations. In late March, President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry and a number of high-level U.S. leaders met with President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah to work out how the United States can best support Afghanistan as it builds on the progress made over the past decade.
And so the United States will continue to provide budgetary support for Afghan Security Forces and will continue to participate in NATO’s train, advise and assist mission. At President Ghani’s request, we will slow down the withdrawal of our armed forces and maintain 9,800 troops through the end of this year.
The United States will also continue to support Afghanistan as it works to establish a peace dialogue with the Taliban, and ultimately to reintegrate into society those Taliban fighters who break with al Qaeda, renounce violence, and abide by the Afghan constitution, including its protections for women and minorities.
The United States will continue to support the national unity government in its efforts to combat corruption, uphold the rule of law, and strengthen democratic institutions. We will also provide $30 million in support of electoral reform and operations.
Through the $800 million New Development Partnership, we will help to maintain and build on the development gains made over the last decade. We will also expand our Fulbright Program for Afghan participants by 50 percent, and establish a scholarship program to support women attending universities throughout Afghanistan.
Afghanistan’s gains, said Secretary Kerry, “the blossoming of civil society more generally – are non-negotiable, and they must be made irreversible, as much as any military force, freedom, opportunity, human rights are absolutely essential to maintaining the security of a nation. And they can provide the foundation for a new and an even more ambitious chapter in the friendship between our countries.”