WASHINGTON, April 10 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta on Tuesday hosted Afghan Minister of Defense Abdul Rahim Wardak and Afghan Minister of Interior Bismellah Mohammadi at the Pentaon, discussing long-term partnership, the Pentagon said.
The officials met in the third session of the U.S. - Afghanistan Security Consultations Forum (SCF). The Afghan ministers met with Panetta, Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other senior defense officials to discuss long-term cooperation between the two countries.
The officials also used the opportunity to "reaffirm the importance of a strategic partnership, and address issues of immediate importance."
The Pentagon said the meetings included a review of security gains across Afghanistan and progress made towards transition of lead security responsibility to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). The Pentagon said the two sides have completed transition in the first two of five tranches of provinces and municipalities where approximately 50 percent of the Afghan population now lives. Afghan forces are assuming the lead for security in those areas.
The Pentagon said ANSF are successfully providing effective security in these transitioning areas, and demonstrating their readiness for additional responsibility to assume a third tranche of transition.
The ministers agreed that continuing to build ANSF is a "key priority" for Afghanistan and the international community. Panetta expressed intention to support a sufficient and sustainable post- transition Afghan force. The Pentagon said the issue will be brought up at the upcoming International Security and Assistance Force ministerial meeting in Brussels next week, and with leaders at the NATO Summit in Chicago this May.
The U.S. side has just signed with the Afghans a memorandum of understanding regarding night raids, a contentious issue between the two, removing a major barrier in strategic partnership agreement negotiations. All U.S. forces are scheduled to be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.