Closing press conference

by General Knud Bartels, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee following the 167th Military Committee meeting in Chiefs of Defence Session

  • Last updated: 27 Apr. 2012 10:40

GENERAL KNUD BARTELS (Chairman of the NATO Military Committee): Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to give you a rundown of the Military Committee and Chief of Staff Session. We have been meeting for the last couple of days and the 167th Military Committee and Chiefs of Staff session, by the way. And I'm going to give you a brief rundown, a chronological brief rundown on what has taken place.

So starting with yesterday morning, the focus of our meetings was on the final preparation for the Chicago Summit, that's overall, which of course was in short reach in about three weeks' time. And here we will like to highlight NATO's commitment to Afghanistan's future, NATO's commitments to partnership, and of course NATO's commitment, or the Allies' commitments to each other.

We started the session yesterday with a briefing by the Secretary General, who addressed the Chiefs of Defence, and who highlighted the outcomes of the Defence and Foreign Ministers meeting which took place last week. And there was, afterwards, a question-and-answer period with the Secretary General which was highly productive, and which, to a certain extent, framed, if I may say so, the discussions which took place afterwards.

After having had the Secretary General, we met with our Afghanistan International Security Force Coalition Partners, or in other words, either the Chiefs of Defence or their representative of 50 nations. And here we primarily focused on the military analysis of the strategy now, and particularly for the future. And it was very nice, indeed, that we could see that everybody agreed on what we have characterized as cautiously optimistic that the strategy is not only the right one, but the strategy is on the right track. The transition is also on the right track. And we are convinced that in due time Afghanistan will be capable of providing security, governance and development for its own people, and will not be a safe haven for terrorists or anybody else.

Of course, as a consequence of transition, we also discussed the issue of redeployment of troops and equipment, which is quite a challenge from both an operational and logistic perspective. And which needs to be addressed now because, of course, even though it's in theory it doesn't take place before the 1st of January, 2015, time passes very quickly. And we know that movement of troops and equipment takes time.

We addressed particularly the progress shown by the Afghan Security Forces and we are very pleased to note that they're increasingly taking the lead and becoming more and more effective. And may I just use this opportunity to highlight that in the month of April the Afghan Security Forces, in other words, both the army and the police, have lost 112 soldiers and police officers, and we should also play tribute to their performance.

And even though those losses are quite substantial we are quite convinced that in strategic term that the comparative advantage now lies with the government of Afghanistan, its security forces and its people.

We, of course, also had the opportunity to hear from SACEUR, or Supreme Allied Commander Europe, and Commander ISAF, as to the work which was done by our own troops and our partner troops. And it was also very pleasing to hear that they deserve great credit for their efforts.

The partnership issue was addressed particularly yesterday afternoon in three different meetings with the Chief of Defence of Ukraine, the Chief of Defence of Georgia, who as you know, both nations, Ukraine and Georgia are contributors to NATO operations. Ukraine briefed us on their intent to take part in NATO counter piracy operations next year, in Operation Ocean Shield, and Georgia confirmed their intent to increase their commitment to ISAF by another 750 soldiers, which is quite impressive.

We also had a very successful session of the NATO-Russia Council, which as you may know, is ten years old this year, and we reaffirmed our commitment to continue developing practical military cooperations.

We, of course, also addressed the issue of ballistic missile defence, and we had a quite open and frank discussion between the Allies and the Russian Chief of Defence, General Makarov. And we, of course, talked about the exercise which has just taken place. We talked about the issue of the seminar which is to be held here in the beginning of May in Moscow, and we, of course, also addressed that interim capability is to be declared during the upcoming Moscow Summit.

It was definitely my impression that the discussion, not only was a good discussion, but also took place in an atmosphere of openness and readiness to listen to each other's views.

This morning we looked at other on-going operations, particularly the counter piracy efforts of the Horn of Africa, and security operations in Kosovo. As you will know, elections in Serbia are coming up beyond the 6th of May and we want to make sure that the security in Kosovo is optimal and that we have no spill over of one kind or another.

Finally, we have been reviewing the lessons we have identified from the conduct of Operation Unified Protector, so that we can improve, shall we say, the ability of the command structure to handle operations of this type. In this case it was primarily an air operation and this, of course, we've been looking particularly into.

And finally, we had a quick review of the military aspects of the Chicago Summit, particularly Smart Defence and the implementation of the new NATO command structure which should begin here by June 2012.

So this is, roughly speaking, what we talked about during this day and a half, and now I'm ready to take your questions if you so wish.

CAPTAIN DAN B. TERMANSEN: Please state your name and who you represent and say your question.

Q:I'm (inaudible...), I work for Serbia News Agency Tanjug. And predictably I would like to ask you to elaborate a bit on Kosovo. Namely, also I think today some reinforcements came to KFOR into Kosovo. Can you tell me how much of these troops are there, and more importantly you said you wanted to prevent any spill over from Serbia. Can you explain what you mean by that?

GENERAL KNUD BARTELS: Yes. As we know, the elections are going to take place in Serbia here on the 6th of May, and congratulations, by the way, to Serbia on that issue. We also know that this can lead to tensions in part of Kosovo and that KFOR is responsible for a safe and secure environment in Kosovo, as a third responder behind the Kosovo police force, and EULEX, and to make sure that all assets are available should tensions arise. We have... Supreme Allied Commander Europe has decided to deploy a second battalion. As you know, there is one battalion of the reserve which is in place, and a second battalion is expected to arrive here by the beginning of May.

And thus making sure that Commander KFOR, should problems arise, will have the necessary assets to keep Kosovo a safe and secure environment.

And hopefully we will not have any episodes, I should say.

Q:I hope so as well.

GENERAL KNUD BARTELS: Any other questions?

Q:French President... Laurent Thomet, with Agence France-Presse. French President François Hollande, French presidential candidate, François Hollande…

(LAUGHTER)

Q:That's me. Has repeated that if he were elected May 6th, which is looking likely, he would withdraw French combat troops this year, one year earlier than Sarkozy has said. Would this pose a problem for the transition?

GENERAL KNUD BARTELS: First of all, I have to say that it's not for me to comment on who is going to be elected president of France here in the upcoming elections.

Secondly, decisions as to operations conducted within the NATO framework are always the result of a consultation between the Allies and the Allies agree to what they want to do together. And what you mention here will, I assume, lead to a consultation between a possible French president, in this case, … what would be President Hollande, and his Allies in NATO.

CAPTAIN DAN B. TERMANSEN: Oui, si vous voulez. Une fois de plus?

Q:Follow-up. But is there any contingency planning in case France decides to pull out by this year, which is much different from what has been planned so far.

GENERAL KNUD BARTELS: Well, until now we do not know anything about French intentions to pull out this year apart from what president candidate, François Hollande has declared to the press. And it is not possible to base such decisions upon declarations. We need to have the French... official French government to come forward with what they believe is the decision to be taken in due time. Then of course we will do the necessary planning accordingly.

MODERATOR: Any other questions? Sir?

Q:Yes, Slobo Lekic from the Associated Press. My colleague in Washington did an analysis on the weekend of government accounting offices' report and missile defence and an internal report on missile defence, and found that their conclusions are essentially that there are over costs very much delayed and technically not really feasible because of various reasons concerning the radars and their abilities and the interceptors and their abilities.

How does that square with your intent to introduce... to actually declare an interim capability at Chicago.

GENERAL KNUD BARTELS: Well, first of all I have to say I've heard about this report, but I have not read it personally and therefore I do not know the details of it. What I do know is that the U.S. government has stated quite clearly that it is its intention, in consultation with the Allies, to declare the interim operational capability and therefore taking the first step of a development for ballistic missile defence capability primarily in Europe, which will stretch over quite a substantial number of years. And that's about what I can say until further notice.

Any further questions?

Q:Can you give us some details on Kosovo? How many troops do you have there now? And how many troops are arriving in the second battalion and when will they be there?

GENERAL KNUD BARTELS: As to the exact number of troops we have now, as far as I remember it's 6,500, but they will ask to provide you with a confirmation because I might be some hundreds off the right number.

Secondly, it is battalion... the German-Austrian battalion which has been activated, and which is going to deploy within those very days with being... and ready for operations in the beginning of May. And the size is about, roughly, 750 men. I should say 750 soldiers, or 750 men and women.

CAPTAIN DAN B. TERMANSEN: I will get back to you (inaudible...)...

GENERAL KNUD BARTELS: Yes, we'll just check the numbers to make sure that you have exact numbers.