Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has visited one of the main development projects carried out by the U.S. military in Afghanistan -- the Rabia Balki Women's Hospital in Kabul -- and said the work being done there is "amazing" and "very inspiring."
The hospital is one of about 200 construction projects carried out in the past year by the combined civil military affairs task force in which U.S. Army officers direct and local Afghans do the work, Wolfowitz said.
Through reconstruction assistance, the American people are saying thank you to the Afghan people for their cooperation in the war against terror, while contributing to the building of a more stable country, Wolfowitz said.
Wolfowitz said he went to Afghanistan to assess the progress that has been achieved and consider the next steps to be taken in order to speed up the process.
He said the work in Afghanistan is moving into a new phase in which stability and reconstruction will be the main priorities, although the hunt for terrorists will continue.
Following is the transcript of Wolfowitz's remarks outside the Rabia Balki Women's Hospital:
U.S. Department of Defense News Briefing
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz
January 15, 2003
(Media availability at the Rabia Balki Women's Hospital, Kabul, Afghanistan)
Wolfowitz: We just had a very interesting tour of this hospital, which is the largest hospital for women in Kabul, and it's amazing that these doctors were able to do anything under the conditions of the hospital. I must say it's amazing. But the work that's being done by Capt. (inaudible) and the Afghan contractors working under his supervision, is very inspiring. They're hoping to be finished by March 1st, which I can't believe, but I guess they will be. Then there'll be 500 patients at a time in this hospital.
It's one of about 200 construction projects - I guess one of the bigger ones - that the combined civil military affairs task force has undertaken in Afghanistan over the last year or so. Almost every one of those projects has been like this one - directed by U.S. Army officers and most of the work being done by local people. We believe it's inspirational from the point of view of helping people who deserve that kind of help. But also from the point of view of the American people, the United States, it's not only our way of saying thank you to Afghanistan, but also we think it's a contribution to building a more stable country here. And that's going to be in our interest as well as Afghanistan's.
This is just one example of many that we do. I it's a very, very inspiring example and I thank Capt. (inaudible) and I thank everybody involved in this project.
Q: What is the main reason of your visit in Afghanistan?
Wolfowitz: To assess the progress that we've made to date, which is in a whole number of areas very important, very significant. Not only in the defense and security areas, but also in things like health services and economic development. We visited a road project this morning. I think the right way to look at building a stable and secure Afghanistan in the future is to realize that it's not just a military issue, or even mainly a military issue.
It's to get a feeling for where the progress has been made. What are the next steps that need to be taken and to see if there's some way we can speed up the process because there's no way to go too fast. Faster is better.
Q: What is your assessment of how the progress is going?
Wolfowitz: I'm very encouraged. I was here in July and a number of the things that were top priorities for us in July like the recruiting of the Afghan national army - like the road project, which hadn't even started then -- there's real progress underway.
I think we're clearly moving into a different phase where our priority here in Afghanistan is increasingly going to be stability and reconstruction. But, if you measure it from where we've come, we've come a very long way. If you measure it from where we have to go, there's still a lot more work to do.
Someone mentioned to me that a few years ago Afghanistan ranked 169 out of 170 countries in the world in terms of the index of human development because of 20 years of civil war and devastation here. It's going to take time to rebuild it, but there's a spirit among these people that is wonderful, and a spirit among the Americans that are helping that is wonderful, so I think we'll get it done.
Q: Can you comment on the security situation, the hunt for Osama bin Laden?
Wolfowitz: Obviously, we'd love to get him. I f he's in Afghanistan, we'll get him. He may not be here. Who knows if he's even alive. When we say we're shifting the focus here in Afghanistan to stability and reconstruction, what we're really saying is the hunt for terrorists continues. The main focus of effort, the center of gravity if you want to use a military term, is more and more on reconstruction and long-term stability.
Thank you, sir.
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)