Today, we had a discussion on our operation in Afghanistan. This is NATO’s top operational priority. I intend to say much more about this tomorrow after our discussion with ISAF partners but I would like to take the opportunity now to clarify a few issues.
At our Summit in Lisbon, we outlined a roadmap for a gradual transition of lead security responsibility to the Afghan security forces. That decision and that roadmap still stand. We are all committed to the principle: “in together, out together.”
We started transition last year. This process will continue until the end of 2014. And we expect Afghan National Security Forces to have taken full responsibility for security throughout Afghanistan by the end of 2014 – as we agreed in Lisbon.
Until we reach that point, the role of our forces will gradually change from combat to support, based on security and the realities on the ground. But let me stress: we will conduct combat operations throughout the transition period.
This shift in our force presence and role during the transition period will take place in close consultation and coordination among Allies and partners within ISAF and with the Afghan authorities.
And at the NATO summit in Chicago, we will take decisions on how to implement transition from that point until the end of 2014.
Transition is a road that ISAF and the Afghan forces will walk together – every step of the way.
Tomorrow, together with all our partners in ISAF, we will have a thorough discussion on these issues and consult on how we will support the Afghan forces after 2014. This is a serious commitment for NATO, and for the whole international community. Because we all have an interest in making sure Afghanistan is stable and secure.
Today we also discussed Smart Defence. We agreed we have to make sure that every cent we spend delivers the maximum effect, with the maximum efficiency together. We have to decide what capabilities our Alliance needs. And we have to prioritise, specialise and cooperate, to make sure we can get them.
We have identified a number of areas where Smart Defence would make a real difference – such as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; logistics and maintenance; and training. Allies are discussing a number of projects which will deliver real improvements and make maximum use of the limited resources we have. By the time we meet in Chicago, I would expect us to have political agreement on a significant number of projects, as well as an approach for a longer term strategy, which sees Smart Defence at the hub of the way we do business.
Because economic hard times will come and go, but we always need security. And we need to stay serious about our security.
With that, I am ready to take your questions.
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): Please don't forget to introduce yourself. Agence... Sorry, Associated Press.
Q: Slobo Lekic from the Associated Press. Could you please clear up whether there's been a change in the 2014 timetable of the transition of the role of ISAF Forces from combat to support? Does this mean that combat operations will start... will wind down in 2013? Prior to your comments on Monday with the Romanian president, none of us who cover NATO had ever heard of this mid-2013 date which hasn't been mentioned so much, but today.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me stress, there's no change of our timetable. We stick to the road map that was outlined at the NATO Summit in Lisbon in November 2010. The transition has started as you know will continue and be completed by the end of 2014. As I... to complete... to complete transition by the end of 2014, we will of course have to hand over the lead responsibility to the Afghans some time before. Exactly when, we don't know yet.
Probably we will be in a position to take that decision in Chicago. Anyway, that decision will be taken in cooperation with the Afghan authorities. The point is that the Lisbon road map outlines a timeline that ends by the end of 2014. And we stick to that. Until then transition will continue. And during that transition period you will see a gradual change of the role of our forces. But we also foresee as I said in my introduction that combat operations will continue in some areas during that transition period.
OANA LUNGESCU: Agence France-Presse.
Q: Jérôme Rivet de l'AFP. Une question en français. Y-a-t-il eu des divisions, des divergences entre les Alliés dans les débats aujourd'hui sur l'avenir de la mission en Afghanistan?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Il n'y a pas une division. Au contraire, nous sommes d'accord d'une feuille de route. Comme vous le savez, au sommet de Lisbonne nous avons présenté une telle feuille de route pour une transition prévoyant un transfert progressif de la responsabilité principale de la sécurité aux forces de sécurité afghanes. Cette décision et cette feuille de route reste valable. Nous sommes tous attachés au principe selon lequel il faut rester ensemble du début à la fin. Nous avons entamé cette transition l'année dernière.
Ce processus va se poursuivre jusqu'à la fin de 2014. Et nous comptons bien que les forces de sécurité afghanes auront assumé l'entière responsabilité de la sécurité sur tout le territoire afghan d'ici de la fin 2014, comme nous l'avons décidé à Lisbonne. Et comme déjà dit, d'ici là, le rôle de nos forces va évoluer pour passer graduellement d'une mission de combat à une mission de soutien en fonction des impératifs de sécurité et de réalité de terrain.
Mais je tiens à souligner que nous mènerons des opérations de combat pendant toute la période de transition. Et cette évolution de la présence et du rôle de nos forces pendant la période de transition se fera dans le cadre d'une concertation et d'une coordination étroite entre des alliés et les pays partenaires au centre de la FIAS ainsi qu'avec les autorités afghanes....
OANA LUNGESCU: BBC.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: ... et la plate-forme commune.
OANA LUNGESCU: BBC.
Q: Secretary General, Jonathan Beale, from BBC. I understand what you are saying about there's been no change in the timetable yet. People are now talking more about 2013. Would you agree that 2013 is now the crucial year in which they see whether there is success in the operation? In other words that transition process will be well underway almost complete by then, and therefore that is the crucial year for NATO.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: It goes without saying that if we are to complete the transition to lead Afghan responsibility, that is if we are to hand over full responsibility to the Afghans by the end of 2014, then we have to hand over the last provinces to the Afghans some time before. It may be in 2013. We don't know yet. It depends very much on the situation on the ground. That's actually one of the issues we are going to discuss at the summit in Chicago. So you will see a continual evolution of our operation in Afghanistan, based on developments of the security on the ground.
OANA LUNGESCU: German television.
Q: Secretary General, did you speak today about missile defence and is there a new information about the relations with Russia in this question? And can you say something about Ramstein in the future? The role of Ramstein for the missile defence?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: We'll discuss missile defence tonight. We have not discussed missile defence this afternoon. I have nothing new to report on that. Ramstein is one of our headquarters. And it will remain one of our important headquarters.
As regards cooperation with Russia on missile defence, nothing new to report, not as much progress in the talks as we would have hoped to see. But I still think there's a fair chance that we can reach an agreement with Russia by the time we meet in Chicago. I can't give any guarantee. There's also the possibility that we can't reach an agreement. But we'll do what we can.
OANA LUNGESCU: The Times.
Q: Deborah Haynes from the Times. This morning, when you addressed us before the conference, you said that transition continues through 2012 and we expect the last provinces to be handed over to Afghan security forces by the middle of 2013. You were very precise. Now, you're being much more cautious. What's changed in the last few hours to mean that you're now saying that it could happen at some point but you don't know when. Is that pressure on you or a sign that people hadn't agreed? Could you just clear up please?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: No, what I have said here represents what we have discussed today and an agreement on the way forward. I think there is still a broad expectation that the last tranche of transition can take place in 2013. But obviously and that's been the case all the time, that will very much depend on the situation on the ground, security and the realities on the ground. But the main point is that even when the last tranche of provinces and districts have been handed over to lead Afghan responsibility we will still need to support the Afghan security forces, including by conducting combat operations. And if there is any misunderstanding on that, I'd like to be very clear on that. If anyone thinks that the ISAF mission will be completed by 2013, then I can declare that's not the case. We stick to the roadmap that was outlined in Lisbon in November 2010 according to which the transition will continue until the end of 2014. But obviously from now until then, you will see gradual developments of our operation. Already, now we are in the midst of the implementation of the second tranche of transition. Already now, you will see changes in our force presence and the role of our forces as the Afghans take on responsibility for the security. So it's a dynamic... it's a dynamic operation. And this development will continue.
OANA LUNGESCU: National Public Radio.
Q: Teri Schultz with National Public Radio and CBS. Mister Secretary, I understand you're trying to be as clear as possible. But then, given what you've just explained, is there any possible way to square what you said with Secretary Panetta statement that he'd like to see combat operations finished by 2013. Because if as you say it's possible that transition doesn't... isn't completed until 2014, that would mean very clearly combat operations are going on, even with an Afghan lead and ISAF support well into 2014. And Secretary Panetta said he'd like to see them finished by 2013. Is there any possible circumstances under which that could be true?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, the struggle has been squared by what I said here. Because we agree on the fact that the transition process of course will be conditioned based. It will... the pace in which and the scope in which transition can take place will of course very much depend on the security situation on the ground.
We all hope to see quick improvements of the security situation which will also allow more provinces and districts to be handed over to lead Afghan responsibility. So it's very important to understand that all the discussion we have seen takes place within the framework of the Lisbon decision: that transition will take place, continue until the end of 2014. How exactly the timelines will be will, of course, very much depend on security situation on the ground.
Until now, we have been quite successful and been able to hand over responsibility to the Afghan in two tranches, at the dates we had expected more or less. So far we have been very successful. We hope this process can continue. But again, it's premature to predict in all details when exactly provinces and districts will be handed over to Afghan responsibility. But what is clear is that we stick to the Lisbon roadmap.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much.