WASHINGTON, March 23, 2015 - Taking the stage with U.S. leaders early this morning in the Pentagon courtyard, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani thanked U.S. troops and all Americans for their support of his country.
Senior officials joining Ghani included Afghan Chief Executive Dr. Abdullah Abdullah, Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work, and other senior officials.
During his introduction of Ghani, Carter told the audience that the Afghan president is here on behalf of all Afghans "to thank all the Americans whose service has kept the United States secure and given hope and opportunity to his countrymen."
Ghani has deep ties to the United States, the secretary added, naming the Afghan president's attendance at American University in Beirut and Columbia University in New York, and teaching posts at the University of California-Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.
Easing the Afghan Transition
Later, as a scholar, Carter said, Ghani studied state-building and breaking the cycle of conflict.
"As a practitioner at the World Bank and the United Nations," the secretary said, "[Ghani] applied those lessons, managing large-scale economic development projects in countries like India and China, and helping ease the transition in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban."
In his career and in his leadership of Afghanistan, Ghani demonstrates that public service is a public trust, Carter said.
"Along with Dr. Abdullah, President Ghani has made clear to the Afghan people that, for all the assistance that the United States, our military and the international community can and will furnish, Afghanistan's future is ultimately for Afghans to grab hold of and for Afghans to decide," the defense secretary said.
Paying Tribute to the Fallen
Addressing the audience after Carter's introduction, Ghani said, "I want to first pay tribute to ... [the] 2,215 Americans who paid the ultimate sacrifice. To more than 20,000 American soldiers who have been wounded in action ... [and] close to a million American service men and women who have gotten to know my country."
American troops have been in Afghanistan's most-remote valleys and on the highest peaks, in parched deserts and beautiful valleys, he said, "but also in the most demanding situations. Each one of you has left a legacy, but I also understand that Afghanistan has marked you."
Ghani added, "When you wake up at night, sometimes you're not sure whether you're back there or here, but what gratifies me as the president of Afghanistan is what I've had the honor to hear repeatedly from American veterans, 'I have left a piece of my heart in Afghanistan.' Thank you," he said to applause.
Each service member deployed to Afghanistan also left a memory in the heart of every Afghan that they encountered, Ghani added.
'Not There Just to Fight'
"You were not there just to fight. ... You built schools, you built dams, you build roads, and while the physical infrastructure [has] changed lives, it is the attitude [of caring, discipline and sacrifice] that you brought with it. ... The Afghan people, but particularly the Afghan security forces, honor that attitude," the Afghan president said.
The U.S. combat role in Afghanistan ended on Dec. 31, 2014, and the legacy is a proud Afghan security force "that has dealt with the best of you and emulates the best of your example," he said.
Ghani told the Pentagon audience that he will name a section of the Marshal Fahim National Defense University in Kabul, where he said generations of Afghans will be trained, in honor of Army Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, who served as deputy commanding general of Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan.
Greene, whose widow was in the audience this morning, was the first U.S. general officer killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He and more than a dozen others were killed and more were wounded in an attack at the military academy by a lone gunman in August 2014.
Tribute to Tough Partners
Ghani also paid tribute to "tough partners" Carter and Kerry, and to President Barack Obama for their long-standing support of Afghanistan.
And he thanked the American taxpayer, the men and women who are making "your hard-earned dollars available for Afghanistan. And because of that, the government of national unity ... is committed to account for every single one of those dollars and pennies."
This phase of the U.S.-Afghan partnership with the defense community is about building systems, procedures and processes, Ghani said, so the right leadership and the dedicated staff can use those resources for the best purpose.
Speaking Truth to Terror
"We are not going to be a burden," Ghani added.
"We do not now ask what the United States can do for us, if I can play on President [John] Kennedy. We want to see what Afghanistan will do for itself and for the world. That means we are going to put our house in order," he said.
He called Afghanistan a front-line state, adding, "We die on a daily basis. ... We die, but we will never be defeated."
Terrorism is a threat, Ghani said to applause, "but we, the people of Afghanistan, are willing to speak truth to terror by saying, 'No, you will never overwhelm us, you will never subdue us, we are going to overcome.'"
Partnership is Foundational
In this endeavor, he said, "our partnership with the United States is foundational because we will be the first line of defense for freedom globally."
The Afghan president added, "Thank you. God bless the friendship between the United States and Afghanistan."