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Foreign Minister Frattini and Ambassador Iannucci, thank you for the opportunity to join today’s program, which will contribute not only to promoting a free and diverse Afghan press, but also to our goal of a deeper partnership with the Afghan people.
Since 2002, Italian forces have sacrificed alongside troops from the United States and 41 other nations. Italy’s leadership on police training has been indispensable. Well before NATO’s training effort was underway, Carabinieri were working with the United States and the Afghan government to train Afghan National Civil Order Police, Afghanistan’s most capable police. When President Karzai visited Marjah, local elders asked for these police to secure their district. NATO has used the Italian model to shape its new police training, which is jointly led by a Carabinieri General and a U.S. Military Police General. 200 Carabinieri are serving in Afghanistan, accelerating NATO’s efforts to train capable Afghan National Security Forces so that they can assume the lead in securing the Afghan people and preventing al-Qaeda’s return to Afghanistan.
Equally important – but less publicized– is Italy’s significant and growing contribution to the civilian effort in Afghanistan. Through its assistance programs, Italy has improved thousands of lives in Herat, Kabul, and Wardak. The Herat Provincial Reconstruction Team, led by Italy, has refurbished the provincial hospital and built health clinics; constructed bridges; trained Afghan staff at the new Herat Pediatric Hospital; and built schools and new government offices. Italian support made possible construction of the Kabul-Bamiyan road, which will stimulate economic development. Separately, Italy has advanced our common goals on women’s empowerment, most recently by funding construction of a women’s market in Herat city. And Italian technical assistance in electoral affairs, rule of law and judicial reform has helped Afghanistan strengthen its democracy.
Today, the coordination between the United States and Italian personnel in Herat is unprecedented. At the Italian PRT, USAID and State Department staff – led by a highly experienced, language proficient senior U.S. diplomat, Brad Hanson – work closely with their Italian civilian and military colleagues to identify and implement joint projects. The United States welcomes Italy’s recent contribution of additional development assistance to Afghanistan’s West and I look forward to discussing with Ambassador Iannucci potential additional joint efforts on agriculture, rule of law, and governance.
These civilian programs will need to continue even after our combat troops come home. For that reason, Secretary Clinton joined President Karzai, Foreign Minister Frattinni, and Foreign Ministers from more than 70 countries in London on January 28 to offer support for critical Afghan government priorities, including improving sub-national governance and supporting Afghan-led efforts to reintegrate Taliban fighters. Along with this international commitment of assistance comes an expectation that Afghan officials will crack down on corruption, appoint capable officials, and undertake reforms to ensure the integrity of future elections.
As journalists, you can play an important role in informing and engaging the Afghan people on these issues. We saw the benefits of a diverse, free media in the run-up to the August 2009 presidential elections when Afghans gathered to listen to the first presidential debates in Afghan history. Just as Afghan journalists pressed candidates to articulate visions for Afghanistan’s future, you now have a vital role to play in helping Afghans hold their government and the international community accountable for results. You can do this by spotlighting efforts by Afghan officials working to meet the Afghan people’s needs, as well as by exposing corruption and incompetence.
Equally important is ensuring that all Afghans are heard on potentially controversial topics, such as political outreach to the Taliban. While the United States supports Afghan-led reintegration of fighters, we agree with President Karzai that Taliban members must first renounce al-Qaeda, lay down arms, and accept the Afghan’s constitution, including its rights and protections for women and all ethnic groups. Afghanistan’s democracy has made huge strides in the past eight years. That progress must not be reversed as part of any discussions on reintegration and reconciliation. Secretary Clinton and Ambassador Eikenberry have emphasized that the concerns of Afghan women and other groups must addressed in the upcoming “Peace Jirga,” planned for April.
While ensuring a robust exchange of ideas, you also have a commitment as journalists to report the truth. Afghanistan’s enemies are using the radio to spread propaganda and to encourage violence against innocent civilians, as well as Afghan and international forces. They frequently blame the international community for Afghanistan’s problems. The truth is that the international effort is focused only on supporting Afghan efforts to build a more secure future for all Afghans. You can support these efforts by empowering Afghans with accurate information that discredits extremists and offers a realistic accounting of the challenges facing Afghanistan.
To help you in these efforts, the United States is providing significant support to Afghan journalists. Our programs complement training and mentoring that Italy has sponsored for journalists in Herat, and through programs such as this one. As part of our efforts to strengthen the education of future journalists we have sponsored an exchange program for Herat University journalism faculty to learn about U.S. journalism education. Additionally, our communications efforts are focused on providing Afghans access to communications technologies that they can use to respond to Taliban propaganda. We are expanding local radio coverage, supporting distribution of media content, and supporting increased use of mobile technology. These tools will help Afghans strengthen their communities against extremism and share critical information.
In closing, I’d like to once again applaud Italy for hosting this important program. I have no doubt that many of the Afghan journalists here today will play an important role in shaping the significant policy decisions facing Afghanistan’s government and people. I look forward to hearing your views on how the United States and international community can continue to support Afghan journalists and the Afghan people.