Briefing on the New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan

The United States, in that interim — there’s going to be a big argument about who’s President from May 22nd to August 20th. The United States’ position could not be clearer, and President Obama has personally reviewed it and articulated it, and it’s worth repeating again today: We believe there should be continuity of government until the election — point number one.

Point number two: The United States will neither support nor oppose any candidate in these elections. In the meetings yesterday that the President had with the leadership, which we were privileged to be in, he was explicit on that.

And point number three: We believe the election should be free, fair, open, and the candidates should operate from a level playing field. We’ve reviewed this with President Karzai, we’ve reviewed it with the other candidates, and that’s really all we’re going to say on that subject.

MS. FLOURNOY: If I could just clarify one point on the topic of exit strategy, even as we ultimately consider transition of responsibilities in the security sector, one of the things that’s very clear in this strategy is a long-term commitment to assisting the Afghan people, in terms of economic and security assistance long-term, even as the security sector may transition over time. So I wanted to clarify that.

The other thing that, with regard to your question about connecting to the people, is I think there is a shift in strategy towards emphasizing more bottom-up approaches in development and governance at the district and provincial level to complement the investments we’re making at the national level in ministries and so forth.

MR. RIEDEL: And in that regard, that’s one of the most important things the President mentioned, but which could get otherwise missed: agricultural-sector job creation. We’re talking to Secretary Vilsack about that; the U.S. Department of Agriculture is going to get much more involved.

This is a rural country. There is no agricultural — senior agricultural attaché in the mission right now. AID and USDA don’t work together. We’re going to fix all that, I hope. We’re going to go to — we’re going to emphasize wheat; it’s a wheat culture, and the current wheat is very low in nutrients. President Obama is personally enthusiastic and interested in this. Tom Vilsack will be part of our next trilateral meeting; he wasn’t part of the first one.

So that’s what Michelle means by ground-up. We also want to work on training district-level officials in Afghanistan. There are 396 districts in Afghanistan. There’s been no training at that level. There are lots of things like that we can do. It’s not nation building; it’s what you do to help a country that is in need. They have a nation; we need to help them stand on their own feet.

Q What’s happening in terms of an increase in troops among our allies?

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