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Narrator: Today, we recognize the transition of the United States Forces-Afghanistan mission.
In October 2001, the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom against al Qaeda and Taliban forces in response to the attacks on September 11, 2001. Following the invocation of Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty, for the first time in NATO's history, the US-led coalition force removed the Taliban from power and assisted in the formation of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, which soon held its own presidential and parliamentary elections. On 31 December 2014, Operation Enduring Freedom concluded. Beginning on 1 January 2015, Operation Freedom Sentinel shifted focus to counterterrorism. Also, US forces, as a part of the NATO led resolute support mission, contributed to the train, advise and assist mission.
On April 15th, the President of the United States announced the decision to end our military mission. This was subsequently echoed by the North Atlantic Council. As coalition forces depart Afghanistan, the United States Armed Forces mission has also transitioned into the United States Forces Afghanistan-Forward.
Ladies and gentlemen, at this time, General Miller and General Mackenzie will pass the guidon symbolizing the Resolute Support and United States Forces-Afghanistan change of mission.
[GEN Miller passes U.S. Forces-Afghanistan to Gen. McKenzie]
Narrator: Ladies and gentlemen, the outgoing resolute support and United States Forces-Afghanistan Commanding General General Scott Miller.
GEN Scott Miller: So for all of you I asked Colonel Leggett what would happen if I just took the mike and I walked over here and pulled away from all these other mics? He asked me not to do that. So I'll stay here for the benefit of the media and persons present today.
First of all, I'd like to welcome everybody here. Obviously some very distinguished guests to my left.
Ambassador (US Chargé d'Affaires Ross Wilson), thank you very much for coming over and attending today's ceremony.
On the Afghan delegation ... certainly the key security leadership, people who have been very important to Afghanistan. Doctors Sahib Excellency (High Council for National Reconciliation Chairman Dr. Abdullah), thank you very much for attending today, and again, I hope we get a chance to talk.
GEN Scott Miller: Wazir-e-Defa (Minister of Defense Bismillah Khan Mohammadi), good to see you. National Security Adviser (Hamdullah Mohib), (Director of Administration for the President) Dr. Fazly, Chief of General Staff (GEN Wali Mohammad Ahmadzai) Am I allowed to mention your name? My friend, thank you for coming over today. It's important for me to say farewell to you.
GEN Scott Miller: I guess the person I would like to recognize also will be up here shortly would be General Frank McKenzie. And as I look out, I remember your time in Afghanistan. I remember our times across the years. I do want to tell you as sincerely as possible that not only do I appreciate your leadership – the steadiness – what you provided for not only myself but for the entire Resolute Support mission, as well as U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, but your friendship. Frank, just thank you for coming out here.
I know this is important on many levels. Again, it's important not only for the command but also for our Afghan friends.
GEN Scott Miller: To all of you – and I'll be short on my remarks – I need to let you know that command of this coalition has been the highlight of my military career. People will often say that about their last assignment, but I can truly tell you that there has been no day without something going on. The people that were involved over the years that I've been in command. The friends I've made – on the coalition side and on the Afghan side – these are lifetime memories ... the rest of my life.
As you look up, there's a fewer flags. I want to make sure that I do thank all the Allies who served here. I just think that's incredible, and I know what it meant in 2001 when many nations came together to Afghanistan and why they came together. That's something that's important to never forget.
Also, as I depart Afghanistan, I believe that it's very appropriate to remember sacrifice. As I said, the countries that have served here, many have lost service members, civilians. Our Afghan partners have lost service members, they've lost civilians. And as we've spoken about it previously on this very ground with this group, over time, our job is now just not to forget. With the families that have lost people across this conflict, it will be important to them they know that someone remembers, someone cares, and that we're able to talk about that in the future.
On the violence. I am not the only one, but I'm one of the U.S. military officers who has had the opportunity to speak with the Taliban. I've told them, I said it's important that the military sides set the conditions for a peaceful political settlement in Afghanistan. We can all see the violence that's taking place across the country, but we know that with that violence, it would be very difficult to achieve is a political settlement. Again, what I tell the Taliban is they're responsible, too. The violence going on is against the will of the Afghan people. And it needs to stop.
Lastly, I just want to share a personal story with you. As I was changing command about 30 years ago – I believe on as a company grade officer, I was a captain – and at the completion of the change of command – we didn't have these types of cameras out here, but somebody had a camera to record the events – I remember after I changed commands, someone showed me the video afterwards, kind of walked away looking like I didn't know what I was going to do next. And it's a little bit how I feel right now. I'll walk away with a lot of questions about what I'll do next. I'll tell you what I do know. I do know that the people of Afghanistan will be in my heart, and on my mind for the rest of my life.
Thank you all. Tashakor. Manana.
Narrator: Ladies and gentlemen, the United States Central Command and United States Forces-Afghanistan Commanding General, General Frank McKenzie.
Gen. Frank McKenzie: Good afternoon, everybody. GEN Miller has already recognized many of our distinguished guests. I see many friends and old friends from prior times here in Afghanistan from the Afghan side. It's good to be back amongst you.
Ambassador, always good to see you here as well, representing the United States.
For everyone else who's here, it's an important moment in time, and I like to take a moment to reflect on it and say a few things about it.
But I'd like to begin by thanking Scott for the magnificent work you've done over the past three years, and the many years before that that you spent in Afghanistan, as we close out this particular period, and what you've done to get our forces out in a secure and orderly manner over the last few months. It was an exceptional job that was done under pressure not only for the last three years, but again, more particularly for the last few months. And nobody has been more dedicated to honoring the service and sacrifices of our troops and our Afghan allies and partners than Scott, and you heard some of that from him just a few moments ago when those words were certainly spoken from the heart.
Scott Miller was the right leader at the right time. He's a great representative of the hundreds of thousands of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who've served here honorably and courageously in defense of our countries. A testament to his leadership and to his team has been a truly historic performance of this retrograde so far. Millions of tons of equipment have been moved, thousands of personnel, all done safely, swiftly and sensibly while continuing to support the Afghan national security forces. Never before has an operation of this magnitude been conducted so effectively under these conditions.
While our drawdown continues and will be completed no later than the end of August, we have already reached the point where we can today thank USFOR-A and our NATO partners for their effort. Their work here is nearly complete, but the United States commitment to support the Afghan government and its armed forces carries on. And we retain a protective posture that enables us to do the following things:.
This ceremony marks an important milestone in the transition of our involvement in Afghanistan, but it's not the end of the story, it's rather the end of a chapter. More chapters will be written and the narrative will continue. What the ceremony today signifies is our renewed commitment to our Afghan partners. As the president observed last Thursday, the principal objectives of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan were to bring Osama bin Laden to justice for the events of September 11, 2001, and to ensure that this country would no longer provide a base for those intent on launching similar attacks. We fulfill the first objective 10 years ago, and ever since we've calibrated our force posture in Afghanistan to enable progress in the campaign to degrade al Qaeda and other terrorist groups that reside here.
As our force levels have declined over the past decade, the capabilities of our partners, the Afghan National Security Forces have increased and our determination to support the Afghan government and its security forces has remained constant. Today's ceremony emblemizes this commitment. Until now, General Miller and his predecessors have worn two hats: one as the commander of the NATO mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces; and one as the commander of all U.S. forces here in Afghanistan. I am now taking on the responsibility for all U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
But the people of Afghanistan should know that this transition signals are enduring commitment to continue working with them over the months and years ahead. That we will do so from bases outside of Afghanistan indicates a change in posture, but not a change in our resolve to support our partners. I will be supported in this effort by Rear Admiral Pete Vasely, who will lead a new organization, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan Forward, here in Kabul, and by Brigadier General Curtis Buzzard, who will operate out of my forward headquarters in Qatar.
We will remain focused on four things over the course of the coming period.
Importantly, all existing authorities are retained for this next period. I will continue to exercise authority over the conduct of any and all counterterrorism operations needed to protect the homeland from threats emanating from Afghanistan and will continue to lead U.S. efforts to develop options for the logistical, the financial and technical support to Afghan forces once our retrograde is complete.
The most important thing that continues is our support to the people of Afghanistan and to its armed forces. We are confident in you. We're confident you have what it takes to protect your country. Our support will be different than what it was in the past. But we know how much you love your country, and we know the sacrifices that you have made in the past and that you're going to be willing to make in the future to do that. You can count on our support in the dangerous and difficult days ahead. We will be with you.
Gen. Frank McKenzie: Thanks very much.
Narrator: Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes today's ceremony. Thank you for attending.