Ministers, ambassadors, distinguished leaders, colleagues, and most importantly, the men and women of ISAF [International Security Assistance Forces=] and the Afghan National Security Forces, good morning. And I want to thank General Jim Mattis for deferring to me the honor of speaking to you all on behalf of the Armed Forces of the United States, many of whom, I should say most of whom have served in Afghanistan as part of this great coalition.
I’m honored to be with you today and thank and salute each of you representing the 49 countries in this coalition for your strength your commitment to Afghanistan’s future. NATO brings to bear here 64 years of experience to the heart of this coalition, and we’ve been honored to be part of it.
ISAF is an example of what’s possible when like-minded nations unite in common purpose. It’s a coalition built on shared values and fortified by more than a decade of conflict. Year after year, the Afghan National Security Force partnership has denied the objectives of Afghanistan’s enemies and those who would seek to undermine that coalition.
This is a great credit to the resilience and resolve of this nation’s great people, the Afghan Forces, and each of you, the men and women of ISAF who go out to the leading edge, risking your lives and your futures every day for the future of Afghanistan.
It’s also a great credit to General John Allen who today completes his tour as ISAF commander. John is as fine an officer as I’ve ever known, and a leader wholly committed to the mission here, to the people and the relationships that propel that mission, and to the broader strategy in this region of the world.
John took command during the torrid summer of 2011. He battered the enemy, he built the capacity and confidence of the Afghan Military, and he recovered the surge forces all at the same time. He’s led with a quick mind, with calloused hands, and a servant’s spirit. At every level, from here at the capital to the field, John imbued his command with courage and with resolve. And he took every step alongside Afghan leaders to build this powerful coalition. Let me add that making a coalition work is hard work.
It’s particularly tough during a period of historic transition, but John’s leadership and vision through it all maintained the cohesion of our coalition through even the toughest days. He made tremendous headway toward our shared goals here and he helped strengthen NATO, the entire organization, by preserving our partnerships well beyond Afghanistan.
But, as John himself says, much work still lies ahead. As we continue the transition, we will work to keep three things in equilibrium: first, the campaign objectives laid out in Lisbon and again in Chicago; second, retrograde, the movement of our men, our women and our equipment out of Afghanistan; and finally, of course, protecting the force as it engages in those two activities.
It’s the character and commitment of our leaders, actually, U.S., NATO, and Afghan that will carry the day. And that’s why we’ve once again turned to one of our very best leaders to send to Afghanistan and that of course, is General Joe Dunford.
General Joe Dunford is one of the U.S. military’s most highly-regarded senior officers and one of our great strategic thinkers. I’ve known Joe personally for fourteen years and have had the privilege of working closely with him both in combat and in resolving the larger security challenges facing the United States.
Joe has more than 35 years of exceptional leadership at every level. He’s a rare mix of a forthright thinker and a warrior’s warrior. And he has a deep appreciation both of the environment he’s entering and the task at hand.
Joe has my personal trust to guide ISAF through the next critical phase. As he takes the flag, I know he’ll take the momentum of his predecessors and he’ll keep his eye on the horizon on a bright future for Afghanistan and the security of the citizens across the coalition.
Joe, welcome aboard. We’re glad to have you here, and I look forward to working with you in the years and months ahead. You’re the right leader for this job, and I’m grateful for your willingness to take it on.
But even the toughest Marines can’t do it without support. I greatly appreciate your wife Ellyn and the rest of your family for their willingness to support you as you take on yet another tough command assignment far away from home.
And John, again, well done and thank you my friend. You always had my complete trust and confidence and that comes not only from me, but from our Secretary of Defense and our President. And there’s no surer sign of that support and confidence than your nomination as NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe and head of U.S. European Command.
Please pass on to Kathy, our deepest thanks for everything she’s done to make possible what you’ve done here in Afghanistan with ISAF and for the people of Afghanistan. Other families have sacrificed in greater ways as you know in this war. We both know that. But none have been more generous with their support than the Allen family.
God bless you all, God bless the United States and its Afghan partners. Thank you.