By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, July 27, 2005 – Saying he has the “ability to work hand in hand” with the U.S. military in the country, the new U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan took his oath of office from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice here today.
Ronald Neumann, whose father once served as ambassador to Afghanistan, said the struggle against violent extremists is not a clash of civilizations, but “a clash within Islam that seeks to remove our influence, so that it can impose by force a narrow view that would restrict human freedom and progress throughout the Islamic world.”
Neumann said Muslim scholars repeatedly have rejected the al Qaeda view of the world. Success in Afghanistan would show the rest of the Muslim world that democracy can flourish, he said. “I am honored to help lead a team of courageous and dedicated civilian and military personnel towards securing Afghanistan’s long-term security, democracy and prosperity,” he said at the swearing-in ceremony at the State Department.
Neumann follows Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, now ambassador to Iraq. “I will be building on much that has been achieved by many others, and I am sure that even with success, much will remain to be done when I eventually hand over to a successor,” he said. “I am privileged and honored to take up the work Ambassador Khalilzad and so many others have carried so far.”
Neumann served in the Army in Vietnam and received the Bronze Star. He has served as ambassador to Algeria and Bahrain, and most recently in Baghdad with the Coalition Provisional Authority and with the U.S. Embassy there.
He said the recent bombings in Egypt and England highlight the importance of international cooperation and “staying the course” against terrorism. Success in Afghanistan, he said, will ensure the country will never again be a safe haven for terrorists. “It is pivotal to our overall success in the global struggle with terrorism,” he added. Neumann will take office as President Hamid Karzai’s government holds parliamentary and provincial elections in September. “Nearly 6,000 candidates are running in this September’s parliamentary election, among which 10 percent are women,” he said. “The country has adopted one of the most enlightened constitutions in the Islamic world – an amazing accomplishment, given that the Taliban ruled Afghanistan just four years ago with an Islamic absolutism that denied fundamental human rights, particularly to women.”
Neumann ticked off the signs of progress in Afghanistan. He said warlords are disbanding militias and the militiamen are turning in their weapons. Militarily outmatched Taliban and al Qaeda remnants are attacking “soft targets” in hopes of ruining the September elections.
With 24,000 soldiers, the Afghan National Army has won acceptance from Afghans for its fight against insurgents and tribal factions. NATO’s command of the International Security Assistance Force has steadily expanded. If all moves forward as planned, NATO will have responsibility for all of Afghanistan in 2006. Reconstruction efforts are helping to rebuild a country torn apart by decades of war and poverty.
“But while significant challenges remain, especially in fighting narcotics, establishing the rule of law and enhancing security, I’m optimistic about the future of Afghanistan,” he said.
The ambassador said he looks forward to working with Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, the commander of Combined Forces Command Afghanistan. “I am humbled to be able to work with American men and women, both in and out of uniform, in bringing freedom and stability to the Afghan people,” he said. “I pledge that I will do all in my power to keep the people in my charge safe, their morale high, and ensure that they receive all the support they deserve.”