Secretary Ray LaHood
--Remarks as Prepared--
8th Annual U.S.-Afghanistan Business Matchmaking Conference
Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center
Tuesday December 4, 2012
Hello everyone. It’s great to be here. Thank you to Don Ritter and the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce for inviting me to talk about DOT’s role in Afghanistan.
Everywhere I go, I talk about the economic power of infrastructure investments.
And Afghanistan is no different when it comes to the positive impact of transportation.
DOT has worked with Afghanistan since 2005, beginning with a single FAA Aviation Attaché.
Our team has grown considerably since then to a total of 15, including our Transportation Counselor, Mel Cintron, who is here today.
Our mission is to support Afghanistan’s economic development and to help it fulfill its potential as a multi-modal hub for Central Asia.
We are working to develop a safe and integrated transportation network—one that allows for the affordable and reliable movement of goods and people within the country and to regions near and far.
In 2012, Presidents Obama and Karzai signed the Enduring Strategic Partnership Agreement.
This outlined U.S. commitment to support Afghanistan’s social and economic development, security, institutions and regional cooperation from 2014-2024.
This agreement recognizes that transportation and trade will help strengthen Afghanistan’s economic foundation.
It also calls for us to work together to restore Afghanistan’s historic role as a bridge that connects Central and South Asia and the Middle East.
Developing a reliable, safe and integrated transportation network is critical to a strong, secure future for all of Afghanistan.
A good transportation network will ensure that farmers, factories and businesses can get their goods to market.
And it will help us reduce poverty in the region.
To fulfill our vision, we are working with three Afghan ministries:
Transportation and Civil Aviation,
And Public Works.
Our efforts are multi-modal, covering aviation, rail, and highways.
In aviation, we have assisted our Afghan and USAID partners in the design and construction of regional airports.
We have also focused on improving the country’s international airports.
This summer, we performed an extensive assessment of Kabul International Airport to identify the improvements needed to meet international safety standards.
We plan to do the same at other international airports in the country.
We have also helped the Ministry of Transportation and Civil Aviation develop plans for increased air cargo service operations at the Kabul and Kandahar International airports.
This is a very important part of Afghanistan’s future.
A vibrant air cargo service will not only provide high-paying jobs for Afghans involved in the transport operations, but the export of Afghan produce, textiles, and other crafts will help to increase the economic prosperity of many others throughout the country.
As some of you may know, President Karsai recently signed the Civil Aviation Law.
With this development, we are now poised to make even greater achievements in helping Afghanistan establish an independent Civil Aviation Authority.
Establishing a strong institution with internationally-compliant standards and procedures will provide a foundation for a safe and sustainable Afghan aviation system.
We are making progress with other modes of transportation as well.
President Karzai established a Railroad Authority in September, and the Ministry of Public Works aims to have a fully-functioning Railroad Authority within three years.
The DOT Team is now working with our Afghan counterparts to establish the necessary framework, such as staff, funding and standards.
We are also working with the Ministry of Public Works to build a sustainable highway system that will connect Afghanistan with its neighbors.
In everything we do, we’re working to create a strong and uniquely Afghan national transportation system that will support development and economic growth.
And we’re looking to the future.
The planned withdrawal of the U.S. military in 2014 does not mean that the international community will abandon Afghanistan.
It means that Afghanistan will enter a new phase of support and assistance.
While this new phase may bring significant challenges, it will also bring great opportunities for private and commercial sectors.
Many of you can become the beneficiaries of these opportunities.
More importantly, you can partner with us and our international allies to help Afghanistan become a sovereign example of self-governance and democratic principles.
All of us at DOT and our partners in the Afghan government are committed to helping Afghanistan become the transportation hub it is capable of being.
I encourage you to take advantage of these opportunities and to be part of Afghanistan’s bright and vibrant future.