President Begaj, Prime Minister Rama, Ministers and Generals, Allies and Partners, Excellencies, men and women in uniform, distinguished guests and friends –
This is an exceptional moment. We’re lucky to be here. We gather in a square used for decades by a brutal dictator committed to isolating Albania from the world. Albanians were told that the United States and democracies around the world were their enemies. Citizens were ordered to build bunkers – these crazy bunkers – and prepare to fight to keep their enemies out.
Look around you today, a changed Albania – and it’s historic. Here we are, at Mother Teresa Square, in a democratic Albania, surrounded by hundreds of men and women in uniform from the United States, Albania, and many other partners and Ally states, launching an international military exercise, DEFENDER Europe 2023.
We are here as Allies, friends, partners. Americans and Albanians standing side-by-side, krah-per-krah, as you say. Once divided, kept apart, we are now NATO Allies and the closest of military partners.
In the two years since DEFENDER Europe 21, the world has changed. Russia launched a full-scale, brutal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. The United States, Albania, and our NATO Allies are more united and stronger than ever. I cannot help but recall the words of Scanderbeg, Albania’s national hero, and my personal hero as well – “Bashkimi bën fuqinë” – unity makes strength.
Ever since DEFENDER 21 and building up to today’s DEFENDER 23, Albania and the United States are doing more, together, than ever before. We have taken great steps together as Allies and security partners. We have established the first two U.S. military presences in Albania in history – the U.S. Special Operations Command’s forward-based regional headquarters – Task Group Balkans, along with the rotations of the U.S Army’s Security Force Assistance Brigade unit. These achievements are accelerating the pace of our military relationship and the importance of the strategic U.S.-Albanian partnership.
Our international partnership matters more than ever before. DEFENDER 23 is designed to build military readiness and interoperability between the United States, Albania, and our NATO Allies and it is an opportunity to put that partnership into action. It will show us, and the rest of the world, that together, with our Allies and partners, we can accomplish any mission.
To the men and women in uniform, thank you for your service. Thank you for choosing to defend your country. Thank you for choosing to defend us. Thank you for always being there. I am so very proud to stand alongside you as you begin this important undertaking. I encourage you to use this important opportunity to make us all stronger, more effective, and more united.
Together, with Albania, anchored in our shared values, we will continue to make history, a new and better history. We are proud to call Albania our friend and our Ally. And we are proud to stand with Albania and the people of Albania, krah-per-krah.
Thank you! Faleminderit!