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General Ray Henault (© NATO)

Interview : General Ray Henault, Chairman of the Military Committee

As Chairman of the Military Committee, Canadian Forces General Ray Henault provides military advice to the North Atlantic Council on behalf of the NATO Chiefs of Defence Staff and oversees the military implementation of decisions made by the Council, the Alliance’s highest decision-making body. NATO’s two strategic commands, Allied Command Operations and Allied Command Transformation, provide input into the Military Committee, which in turn finds the consensus required to shape and inform NATO’s decision-making process. General Henault is currently following up on decisions of the November 2006 Riga Summit.

NATO Review: What are the most important decisions of the Riga Summit for military follow-up?

General Ray Henault: Riga reaffirmed where we're going from a Military Committee point of view: expanding operations, improving our capabilities and enhancing our co-operation and partnerships. And we'll continue doing that because that's a very enduring theme and certainly will carry through to the end of my term, which is predicted for the summer of 2008, and well into the mandate of the next Chairman of the Military Committee. We received good political guidance from the Heads of State and Government in Riga, especially as it relates to operations. Given that our number one operational priority remains our mission in Afghanistan, we're working diligently to both sustain and enhance our effectiveness in that operation, understanding full well that NATO can't do it all by itself. There is a very clear requirement for us to interact and coordinate with the international community, the international organisations that are there and to have a comprehensive approach which looks at both the civil and military components required to do all the things that NATO has been called upon to do. From our perspective, that is primarily to maintain security and stability in the country and set the conditions for reconstruction and development.

More specifically, the military is following up on practical ways to develop this comprehensive approach. To do this, we want to facilitate better coordination between the international organisations, including the Afghan Government, and our provincial reconstruction teams so that long-term development can take hold. Sustainment of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) operation is also something that we're focussed on. Overseeing the troop rotations as required, putting in place the proper command and control structures, having the right link to the American coalition there – Operation Enduring Freedom - is all part of this effort to enhance the effectiveness of ISAF. We are also enhancing relationships with bordering countries, especially Pakistan, which is a key player, in our view. We further recognise that it is important to not only sustain that secure and stable environment, which is setting the conditions for reconstruction and development, but also to help train and equip the Afghan National Army, which represents one of the long-term solutions in Afghanistan. NATO nations will be putting a great deal of effort into this initiative in the coming months.

NATO has also taken the lead of the Tripartite Commission, which includes Commander ISAF, the Pakistani and Afghan militaries. This cooperative arrangement is paying off nicely with continuous meetings and several initiatives that are starting to make a difference, even though we know that there's a lot to do in Afghanistan.

As a result of this Tripartite Commission, we've encouraged and supported the establishment of a Joint Intelligence and Operations Cell in Kabul, to which the Pakistanis have sent very capable liaison officers. In terms of that relationship, there's been some improvement and that's why we think from the operations point of view the situation is very positive.

In terms of Alliance capabilities and partnerships, we're on that same path based on what was issued after Riga and what has come out so far in our look ahead to 2009. We're redoing the CMC Strategic Outlook to determine where we need to re-focus our emphasis, our priorities, using the political objectives of the Alliance as a basis for our work.

The 2009 CMC Strategic Outlook has as a very good hook the Secretary General's Roadmap. Through the Policy Board mechanism that we have here in the Headquarters, of which I am a part, as well as the Director of the International Military Staff on the military side, we are making sure that these efforts are coherent and consistent with both the political and military objectives.

About a year ago, we saw the great value of trying to harmonize the work of the Military Committee, which is made up of the Chiefs of Defence, who are represented on a permanent basis by their Military Representatives here in Brussels, with those of the political side so that we truly have a joined-up political-military Alliance and a long-term set of goals that are pulling in the same direction. It is this harmonization that is allowing us to follow up on the guidance that was issued in Riga.

NR: What other operations are you focusing on?

Gen. Henault: We're also focused on the Kosovo Force (KFOR), which will need to maintain its posture, maintain that secure and stable environment. There is no intent to reduce our troop levels at this point in time. We're waiting for the decisions and the outcomes that will ultimately come from President Ahtisaari's recommendations. But we know that we'll need to maintain a close relationship with those actors who are already in theatre like the UN Mission in Kosovo, the Kosovo police services, the other international and non-governmental organisations, and perhaps even more importantly, with the European Union as it sets in place its international civilian presence for judicial and police training.

Operation Active Endeavour is also doing great work; it's our only Article Five operation, so it's a key element of what we do and how we do business. We also have the NATO Training Mission in Iraq and we continue to provide support to the African Union mission in Sudan, remaining responsive to the UN and the AU, who are in the lead.

NR: What is the military follow-up to the decisions at Riga on partnerships and the clear signal the Summit gave on enlargement?

Gen. Henault: There was a strong emphasis put on partnerships with the Mediterranean Dialogue countries and with our various partner nations, of which we now have three more, with the recent admission of the new Partnership for Peace (PfP) countries: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia. We're also helping and providing advice to the Membership Action Plan invitees: Albania, Croatia and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

We certainly are anxious to continue nurturing our relationship with the European Union, expanding the cooperation and the coordination between the two organisations, especially where we're working together in operational theatres. In Afghanistan, the EU is looking at a training mission, police training and judicial training and so on. They have money invested there. Of course that's at the political level, but from the military-to-military level, we want to make sure we're well harmonised. Same thing with Kosovo, because of its link with Bosnia and the shared commitment of operational reserves. So there is a direct link with KFOR there. The NATO-EU relationship is one that has some limitations given some of the political imperatives, but we keep exploring ways to nurture and expand that cooperation. Our primary focus with the EU is on operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Operation Althea, but certainly we are looking at how we can exchange more information, especially at the staff-to-staff level on things like the mission in Kosovo, Afghanistan and so on.

NR: How did Allies manage to fill the shortfalls necessary to be able to declare full operational capability of the NATO Response Force (NRF) at Riga?

Gen. Henault: There was a lot of work done prior to Riga by this office, by me, by Supreme Allied Commander Europe, by the Secretary-General, all seeking additional offers. Many of the nations were canvassed. The offers did come in due course. What allowed us to make the leap from initial operational capability to full operational capability was the US offer of an expeditionary strike group, which provided a tremendous amount of capability. The US offer helped us achieve full operational capability for this rotation of the NRF. We're now working through the long-term force generation concept to look at the continuous sustainment of that, but not necessarily with an expeditionary strike group. The upcoming rotations of the NRF are encouraging; NRF 8 is now the one that's in place and at full operational capability. For NRF 9 and 10, the force offers are coming in around the 80 percent range. This bodes well for our sustainability but more work is needed to ensure success.

The kind of things that we still need are the ones that you would expect and that's more strategic lift, both strategic air and sealift for the NRF. There’s still some requirement in future fills of the NRF for more medical capability, more theatre enablers, such as intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance and communications and the full mechanism that comes with that. And also there remains the requirement for intra-theatre lift, whether it's helicopters or utility transport or medical evacuation.

NR: Is long-term force generation one way of keeping the NRF filled beyond the next couple of rotations?

Gen. Henault: We've had some modest success with long-term force generation. It was first done in November 2006, when Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) held a long-term force generation conference. They will do another one in April and we're seeing some good returns from that because nations are able to look much further ahead; they look out about 10 years. That allows nations to bid for elements or those parts of the NRF that they wish to be part of, and to look at it with a long-term view. If there are requirements or national imperatives that require them to change that, they then have visibility on who else might be out there to either exchange the periods of responsibility or the periods of stand-by that they hold. Looking ahead like that also allows other nations, the smaller nations for example, to team up with other Allies to establish multinational units to support the NRF.

NR: What sort of future missions do you see the NRF being involved in?

Gen. Henault: The NRF has a set of seven missions that go all the way from humanitarian assistance to combat or initial entry operations and everything in between. What we've seen is that the NRF can respond very quickly and effectively, as we showed in Pakistan, for example, where elements of the NRF were actually activated or mobilized to support that requirement very, very effectively. But that's not the only thing that the NRF can do. We saw during Exercise Steadfast Jaguar in Cape Verde, far from NATO’s Euro-Atlantic shores, that the force can be projected into a fairly austere environment and operate in not just the humanitarian assistance mode, but also in a counter-terrorist mode.

The missions that it will undertake will be decided by the North Atlantic Council, which approves the use of the NRF. What I would say is that it is important to remember that the NRF is made up of up to 25,000 soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen, but the likelihood of it being used at its full strength of 25,000 is much lower than being used in smaller force packages. The NRF’s modular design better prepares NATO for those crises that are bound to happen, and having the readiness to respond quickly is the key to this remarkable achievement.

The Comprehensive Political Guidance looks at the Euro-Atlantic area as being the close-in operational environment of the NRF, which is out to about 5,000 kilometres, but the maximum range can be out to around 15,000 kilometres. A lot of things could happen inside that circle.

The NRF is a very well organized, very well structured and very capable organisation which could answer to any of those mission sets that I just talked about. What we've achieved so far has been remarkable. What are we going to be called upon to do? Pretty hard to predict, but there will be something out there. Crises do pop up and the primary threats to the Alliance as laid out in the Comprehensive Political Guidance are the threats of terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the impacts of failed and failing states and that's what the NRF will be prepared to respond to.

NR: Did the agreement reached in Riga on a trial basis to jointly fund short notice deployments of the NRF solve the airlift problem or does more have to be done in that area?

Gen. Henault: It certainly helps and I would be the first to say that we could always use more. There's no doubt about that. But strategic lift, airlift and sealift - primarily airlift for the short notice deployments and those with a very short timeline - is very crucial. There is a trial ongoing for strategic airlift under a common funding formula for deployment of the NRF or components of the NRF. You still need sealift because the NRF may be deployed for a period of time and we may need to move some of our heavy equipment by sea.

There are other initiatives underway, too. The US has a very sizeable and capable strategic airlift capability. The UK has C-17s and is able to contribute to that requirement as well. Canada is in the process of purchasing C-17s. There's also the Strategic Airlift Interim Solution that many nations are signed up to. You pull all of that together and that's a fairly sizeable and a very capable air-based force projection capability.

We could always use more but we're going a long way towards helping nations actually being able to project their forces through these multiple initiatives that are in place. When the A400M comes on line in the next few years, that will also provide a tremendous capability for European nations. Although not the same cargo-carrying capability as the C-17, it will have some very impressive capabilities in terms of range, speed and loads.

NR: Will NATO's Active Layered Theatre Missile Defence, the systems engineering and integration contract that was signed in Riga, defend the NRF or other deployed forces?

Gen. Henault: The Active Layered Theatre Missile Defence capability is designed to protect deployed forces wherever they may be. That could include forces in any theatre that we might be called upon to go where there is a threat of theatre-type missile capabilities, whatever the threat analysis shows. At the moment, the theatre missile defence capability is not embedded in the NRF concept, but that is certainly something that we'll explore as we continue to refine this concept.

The world has seen a rapid development of missile capabilities and we need to provide the force protection that the forces deserve. Embedding this type of capability, as we are going to through the contract, is exactly in line with our responsibilities in terms of the Alliance itself. I'm encouraged by that and by what I've seen in some of the exercise activity that we have ongoing with other Partners.

I was in Russia in November and visited the NATO-Russia theatre missile defence exercise that was going on there. It was a command and control simulation, but starting to use very advanced and very capable technology and showing where interoperability requirements and where interoperability objectives need to be refined, reinforced or enhanced. That's something that will continue to progress in our NATO-Russia relationship, depending on what nations are able to provide.

This cooperation with Russia reminds me of the same type of interaction we're now seeing with Operation Active Endeavour, where a Russian ship was integrated into the force last autumn. We're now seeing a Ukrainian ship which is in its training phase and will join Active Endeavour later on this year. And in our most recent NATO-Russia Council, the Russians confirmed that they are planning and preparing for the deployment of another Russian vessel to support Active Endeavour later this year.

We're also seeing good support from many of the Mediterranean Dialogue countries that are interested in assisting because it is their neighbourhood: Israel, which has information exchange agreements with us in support of Active Endeavour, Algeria, Morocco and there are others who undoubtedly will see benefit in that. Egypt, for example, has a strong interest in protecting its ports. We're at ways to ensure that their ports are not threatened by terrorist factions off its northern coastline. So I think we may see them perhaps looking at greater participation in the longer term as well.

NR: In Riga, were enough caveats lifted and were enough forces committed to sustain ISAF?

Gen. Henault: The call certainly went out to Heads of State and Government to contribute where they could, to satisfy the overall requirements as per the Combined Joint Statement of Requirement. We did see some minor force contributions that were put forward through the SHAPE force generation process. We've seen the reduction of some caveats as well. We would like to see more troops first of all; and secondly, we'd like to see more and more of the caveats reduced or eliminated.

We are seeing some improvements in the force posture in Afghanistan with the upcoming arrival of a Polish battalion, which is very welcome. We also saw the US agreeing to extend the 10th Mountain Division brigade that's there, which adds about 2,500 or so additional troops for the upcoming four months. The UK has also added to their already sizeable contribution.

That kind of a troop level improvement in Afghanistan is important, because we've established a good momentum in terms of force protection, countering those who would like to see us fail: countering the Taliban, the opposing militant forces, whoever they may be, who are trying to prevent the international community and the provincial reconstruction teams from doing their work, whether it is rebuilding schools or roads or judicial reform, all of those things they need for a secure and stable environment.

The Statement of Requirement is based on the operations plan that identifies the force levels that will provide the flexibility that Commander ISAF needs to do whatever he's called upon to do. Will we look at the Statement of Requirement again? Yes, we'll have another look at it, with the experience of the expansion in the south and the east under our belt and the new command and control relationship, to see whether or not there are some refinements or adjustments that might be made. But I don't think numbers will change in any significant way. They could be adjusted somewhat, perhaps redistribution of forces in different sectors, depending on the threats and so on. The Statement of Requirement is not yet fully filled, but we've seen encouraging signs, and the same goes for caveat reduction.

We are also working through the Afghan National Army equipment and training requirements. We're very focused on the training of the Afghan Kandak battalions themselves, through ISAF’s operational mentoring and liaison teams, who are seen as an absolutely critical requirement for training the Afghan National Army. It is in NATO’s best interest to continue professionalising and expanding the capability of the Afghan national security forces, knowing that ultimately the Afghans will want to take more responsibility for their own internal security.

NR: Do you expect more fighting this year than we saw last year in Afghanistan?

Gen. Henault: We've seen in the southern and the eastern regions a much fiercer resistance than we had expected. NATO did respond to that and our forces did valiant work countering the Taliban threat, especially in the southern region, Kandahar province, Helmand province and so on. And so ISAF troops have shown that NATO is there to maintain security and stability, whatever the threat may be.

We have the momentum at the moment, and NATO is remaining proactive in terms of what it's doing in theatre. A number of theatre-wide operations have been undertaken by Commander ISAF to improve security, not only along the Ring Road, for example, but beyond it into some of the specific areas such as the Afghan development zones, trying to promote stability, security and confidence of the people so they can maintain their livelihood or live in relative peace.

We do know that there are threats out there: opposing militant forces, whether they're Taliban or criminal elements or foreign fighters. Can we expect fighting? Yes, we can. My best estimate is that there is going to be a continued attempt on the part of these opposing militant forces to dissuade NATO from what it's trying to do. We're prepared to do what we need to do to prevent this, in some cases before it happens.

We will maintain the momentum, and we will not only be reactive but also proactive where we need to be, which is part and parcel and very much within our operational plan and our mandate for Afghanistan.

NR: What can be done to solve the problem of movement of Taliban and other elements across the Pakistani border into Afghanistan?

Gen. Henault: Certainly we're concerned about that cross-border movement and what it does to threaten our forces in Afghanistan. What we are doing is working very closely with the Pakistani military to try and achieve a collective border security strategy. That is very much part and parcel of the Tripartite Commission. The Pakistanis have embedded liaison officers in Kabul and the Joint Intelligence and Operation Cell, and they are working with the senior commanders there, whether it's Commander ISAF or the commander of US forces, to see how we can work together to improve that border security.

How we're going to do that is not entirely clear yet. Does that require more surveillance capability? Does it require more border control activity, knowing that that's a very porous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan? All of that, though, leading towards a very concerted effort within the Tripartite Commission to develop strategies that will improve security and prevent, eliminate or at least reduce the flow of activity across the border.

We've seen the Pakistanis' cooperation with NATO forces on more than one occasion. They've provided us with information and advice. They've also helped in countering some of these opposing militant forces on their own territory when it's been required. So it's a concerted effort and one which I think will pay off in the long term.

This engagement with bordering countries is not just with Pakistan, though. The Commander ISAF is also committed to establishing relations with other bordering nations, and maintaining a secure border, wherever that may be, around the country.

While border security is not a NATO task, it is certainly within our purview to help, as we have done with the police, to provide support for certain things, to help them to do what they need to do, to train or to equip themselves and so on.

NR: What is the peacetime establishment (PE) review?

Gen. Henault: That's an important part of what we're doing here in Brussels. This is something that we've been mandated to do by ministers. It's a very natural follow-on to the new Ministerial Guidance '06 and also the Comprehensive Political Guidance, and it's something that we are very focused on in terms of developing an efficient, effective, affordable and capable NATO command structure able to satisfy this new level of ambition established for NATO.

This is undoubtedly going to require some adjustment to the NATO command structure. What those are going to be is premature at the moment. But we are going through a very deliberate process of identifying roles, missions and tasks, current and long-term capabilities and where we might need to make adjustments to the NATO command structure.

It’s very difficult work, but all of it aims towards having a recommendation for a new NATO command structure by the end of 2007, to ensure that we can start implementing a refined and much more effective structure by early 2008.

Read more: Riga
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