MARCH 21, 2021
STAFF: OK. We don’t have much time, so I’ll let the secretary make a couple of opening comments, and then take some questions.
Go ahead, sir.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LLOYD J. AUSTIN III: OK. Is this on or off?
STAFF: Off, sir.
SEC. AUSTIN: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for making a trip out with us. Would just like to say I’m very grateful to President Ghani and Ambassador Wilson and General Miller for affording me a pretty good chunk of time today to talk about a number of issues. I’m here to listen and learn. This has been very helpful to me. In analytic form, my participation in the review that we’re undergoing here with the president, and so, again, it’s very helpful.
And the final thing that I’d just like to say upfront is I really am truly grateful for the continued sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, our diplomats. And, you know, as we’ve worked together with our coalition partners here to help move things forward in the country of Afghanistan. They’ve done a great job over the years and they continue to do so each and every day.
And with that, I’ll just take a couple of questions here.
STAFF: John, go ahead.
Q: Mr. Secretary, do you think the Taliban have met the conditions to ensure U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan?
SEC. AUSTIN: You know, that process of reviewing conditions that have been met or not met is ongoing. And as you’ve seen with our efforts in Doha. And so, you know, I won’t — I don’t care to comment on that. And I won’t comment on that. But what I will say is that it’s obvious that the level of violence remains pretty high in the country.
We’d really like to see that violence come down. And I think if it does come down, it can begin to set the conditions for, you know, some really fruitful diplomatic work.
Q: Yes. Sir, I wanted to know what was your message to President Ghani. And also I wanted to know if you think it will be a good idea to set an end date withdrawal — full withdrawal.
SEC. AUSTIN: Yes, so, hey, thanks, Sylvie. I didn’t carry a message or convey a message to the president. Again, I really wanted to listen to him and to understand what his concerns were, see the landscape through his eyes. And so — and that’s what we did. We — I really had a chance to hear from him. And it was very helpful to me.
And in terms of an end date or setting a specific date for withdrawal, that’s the domain of my boss. That’s the — you know, the decision that the president will make at some point in time in terms of how he wants to approach this going forward. And I don’t want to try to do my boss’s job for him. He doesn’t need for me to do that.
I will continue to participate in a very meaningful way in the review that’s ongoing.
Q: Mr. Secretary, we hear a lot from Afghan officials who worry about this U.S. departure, what it could mean, what it could mean for their safety. What would you say to Afghan officials or U.S. citizens who are worried how this might end up going?
SEC. AUSTIN: Well, what want to see is a responsible end to this conflict. I think that’s a message — I mean, I heard that from everyone as I talked to all of our partners here today that everyone is really desirous of a responsible end, a transition to something else.
So, you know, there’s always going to be concerns about things one way or the other. But I think there’s a lot of energy focused on, you know, doing what’s necessary to bring about a responsible end, a negotiated settlement to the war.
STAFF: Last question — last question to Laura.
Q: Thanks, Mr. Secretary. The Taliban warned on Friday against defying the May 1st deadline. Do you have a response to that? And also what concerns do you have about staying in Afghanistan past May 1?
SEC. AUSTIN: I won’t endeavor to message the Taliban. I don’t have a response to that. I will just tell you that, you know, I — as I spent the day with General Miller, I’m confident in his ability to accomplish his mission with the resources he has, and I have great confidence in his ability to protect our troops. It’s the right of every commander to defend his troops. And so there’s no question that General Miller is more than equipped in terms of personal attributes and resources that he has on-hand to accomplish that.
So I have great confidence in him. Thank you.
Q: Well, what about the Afghan people and the Afghan security forces after we leave?
SEC. AUSTIN: What about the Afghan people?
Q: And the Afghan security forces.
SEC. AUSTIN: I mean, we’ve done a lot to, you know, work with the Afghan security forces. And I don’t want to speculate on what could happen or could not happen going forward, Laura. That’s — you know, we’ll continue to work the processes that we’re involved in and hopefully we’ll get to a point where we have a responsible transition to something else.
STAFF: OK. Thanks, everybody. Appreciate it.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Thanks a lot, sir.