US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Monday that counterterrorism operations are critical for peace in Afghanistan and to ensure that the country is no longer a safe haven for terrorists.
"Counterterrorism operations remain critical to our efforts to achieving peace and ensuring terrorist organizations cannot find safe haven in Afghanistan," said Esper in a joint press briefing with acting Interior Minister Andarabi, Minister of Interior Assadullah Khalid, and Gen. Scott Miller, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.
Esper hailed the contribution of the Afghan National Security and Defense Forces (ANDSF) in providing security for the recent presidential elections in Afghanistan and said that the ANDSF is playing a key role to protect the Afghan people from the senseless violence of the Taliban and terrorist groups.
"Regardless of the outcome of the election, our security partnership with Afghanistan will remain strong. Our mission in Afghanistan has not changed, we continue to conduct counterterrorism operations while supporting the development of the ANDSF," said Esper.
He said that the US and Afghanistan have a strong security partnership built on many years of cooperation and shared sacrifice.
Warns of aggressive campaign on Taliban:
Esper said that the United States remains "fully committed to helping Afghans create a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan." At the same time, Esper vowed to crush the Taliban with an aggressive military campaign.
"We will continue to pursue an aggressive campaign against the Taliban and terrorist groups. They continue to conduct violence against the people of Afghanistan," said Esper.
"Together we remain committed to achieving peace in Afghanistan in a way to protect the achievements of the last eighteen years," he said.
Meanwhile, Afghan acting Minister of Defense Assadullah Khalid hailed the United Statesí contribution to the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan and said that the Afghan people give their lives as sacrifices on a daily basis.
"Afghan people are sacrificing their lives every day and we are in the frontline of this fight against global terrorism and we are doing this fight to secure Afghanistan and all the world from terrorism," said Khalid.
"Afghan security forces are the custodians of our democracy and will pave the way for the future elections as they have set the example in the current election," said acting Minister of interior Massoud Andarabi, referring to the professionalism of Afghan forces in the elections.
General Miller said that over the last year the US reduced the number of American soldiers in Afghanistan by 2,000.
"You are aware as we work in Afghanistan with our partners, we are always looking to optimize the force. As part of our optimization, our the last year, at least 2,000 we reduced," said Miller.