JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Thank you all for making the effort to come up here. I find this microphone already a little bit daunting, but since the New Zealand Prime Minister was going to be here anyway, we thought... and have a press conference, we thought it was a good idea to combine them. And also, we're leaving for Georgia later this afternoon, but I'll come back to that.
I have three or four quick issues to mention with you.
One just to update you on the search and rescue operations off the coast of Yemen. You will recall that NATO's Standing Naval Maritime Group I, set sail on 30 July for a circumnavigation of the African continent. On the afternoon of 30th September, heading north in the Red Sea the force received the report of a volcanic eruption on a Yemeni island, 80 nautical miles north of the force.
Responding to a request by Yemeni Coast Guards NATO forces, a total of six ships, have searched, have been searching the waters around the island. To date, two Yemeni servicemen, in fact, I think that will be the total, as well as four bodies, were recovered. Two ships will remain on station to continue to thoroughly check the area. There's two still missing persons, but the total contingent, I believe will... two ships remained on station, but I believe that by now the entire Standing Naval Maritime Group has left the area, as planned, to transit through the Suez Canal.
And the commander has been in touch, and remains in touch, with the Yemeni Coast Guard authorities. That is the state. I'm told that there were 27 people living on this island. Twenty-one were evacuated by the Yemenese. Two were rescued by NATO, and four bodies were recovered. Two people remain unaccounted for.
Second issue, I wish to raise with you. And while normally the military does this, I will be the first to announce the launch of a framework operation in Afghanistan by the name of Operation Pamir, P-A-M-I-R. It began yesterday. It is the framework operation for the coming period. In other words, through the fall, the winter and into the spring. It will build on Operation Now Ruz. You remember Now Ruz. It will maintain pressure on opposing militant forces, as I said, throughout the autumn and winter periods. ]
This is a joint Afghan National Security Forces and ISAF operation. The key focus is to achieve a stronger security presence within key areas, including population centres, to allow the government of Afghanistan, supported by the international community, to increase governance and reconstruction initiatives, demonstrate to the population that the Afghan government is better placed to meet the needs of the people of Afghanistan, and create the conditions for stability and progress. Is there anything else? It will take place in all four regions, RC Capital, East, South, sorry, and West. So in four regions.
Is there something else I need to tell you? There was something else I wanted to tell you. Combined operation, I mentioned that. Okay. No, that's it.
Third issue, related to that. We received a briefing today by a high-ranking military official responsible for training in Afghanistan on the state of Afghan National Security Forces and the training effort, and I wanted to give you a snapshot of what he briefed to ambassadors. Focusing in particular on the Afghan National Army, which is NATO's area of interest.
There was a general sense of optimism and encouragement about the state of develop of the Afghan National Army, for a number of reasons.
First, in terms of numbers, they are close to 50,000 and moving quickly toward the 70,000 to 80,000 that have been projected. The rates of soldiers being absent without leave is quite low, around 10 percent, and has stabilized. The retention rates are increasing, in some areas, up to 60 percent. In other words, retention rate meaning soldiers who have signed up for another tour.
They have developed commando battalions. They're developing an air capability. Also, Afghan units are now directly in the fight. They are now coming off, if you will, the assembly lines and being engaged directly in combat operations, including at times, taking the lead in planning and conduction operations.
Yes, as he's put it, bringing new units online regularly and integrating them into combat operations. There are a number, and I have them in front of them, of ANA-led operations partnered with ISAF and the thesis, or the logic of this is that the learning experience of being in the field and conducting operations in essential. Why? Because the tactical victories by ISAF against opposing military forces are rarely in doubt. Bringing these forces into the field allows them to learn the complexities of, for example, fusing intelligence and operations, of commanding multinational operations, or commanding complex operations in the field, command and control in high-stress environments, all of these things that can only be learned by doing, they're being done.
That being said, there is a shortfall. There are many areas of potential improvement. A shortfall which is a NATO shortfall, is providing operational mentoring and liaison teams for the Afghan National Army. We have approximately half of what NATO should be providing. The Secretary General is working very closely with allies who are increasingly focusing on this issue, to be able to meet the shortfall.
That shortfall will be discussed in the run-up to and at Noordwijk. However, this is a moving target, because as more and more Afghan National Army battalions or Kandaks come off the assembly line, they need also embedded trainers. So this number, the number required, will continue to grow and we will, as an Alliance, continue to have to meet this ever-growing number.
I might add that there is a secondary benefit to NATO providing OMLTs for Afghan National Army units, and that is as NATO provides them the United States can withdraw training teams that it has embedded with the National Army and move them towards the police where NATO is not, of course, directly engaged, but where there is an even greater need for, an even more pressing need for support from the international community.
We all know that the Afghan police is not yet at the level of the Afghan National Army. There have been improvements. For example, the salaries that are being paid to Afghan police have now been raised below, I am told, at the colonel level, to some parity with the Afghan National Army, so retention rates are better. But clearly the police require greater, if not much greater support than they have gotten until now. And NATO can help that process by providing OMLTs.
You will certainly see the Secretary General and the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, who's responsible for force generation, as well as of course the SACEUR himself, pushing nations very hard to contribute. And I think nations do see that this is the way, the best way, to create the conditions in which the Afghans can fight their own fight and provide for security in their own country, and that is, of course, our ultimate aim and the aim of the Afghan authorities as well.
Final issue I want to raise with you, and that is that the Secretary General is leaving relatively soon for Tbilisi. It is a long flight, so the activities begin tomorrow. The Secretary General will, of course, be meeting with the President, the Prime Minister, the Chair of the Parliament, as well as visiting regions of the country. There'll be a press conference, if any of you have colleagues there, expected at 14:00. It says open air, but it doesn't exactly say where, but I'm sure the Georgians will make that public. And that will be the end of the trip.
That's all I wanted to raise with you today, but I am happy to take your questions, and somewhere I have a pen. Please go ahead.
Q: This Operation Pamir is... I suppose that's one of these ANA-led operations that you were referring to and what kind of troop numbers are involved on the ANA and ISAF side, please?
APPATHURAI: I don't have... yes, it is an ANSF-led operation, with ISAF support, but I do not have information on troop numbers. I'm sorry. But as it will carry on... I mean, this is an operation that will carry on throughout... basically throughout the country and for many months. So it will involve, at one time or another, I imagine, forces from all of these regions.
Q: And when does Pamir end?
APPATHURAI: Pamir just started yesterday.
Q: (Inaudible)... Now Ruz.
APPATHURAI: Well, I don't know if Now Ruz has officially ended, but certainly this builds on Now Ruz, so I don't know if they formally called it to an end.
Q: Some... Sorry, it's Chris Dickson, Agence Europe. Two things, what does that mean that Pamir... when you listed the reasons, it sounded like it isn't taking place in the North. If not, why?
APPATHURAI: I think COMISAF is focusing his effort on the areas where he believes that it is necessary. We obviously cannot conduct operations... well, can. Let me start gain. COMISAF is focusing his efforts on the areas where he thinks it is most necessary. That is the Capital... sorry, Centre, as we call it, Centre, the East, the South and the West. That is where he is focusing his effort.
Q: And so the other one will stay in force in the North presumably or...
APPATHURAI: Well, I mean, they will continue to conduct the operations that they are conducting under the mandate that they have. It is not that they're stopping work. It's just that this specific operation and this specific focus of effort, coordinated with the reconstruction and development on specific sites, in particular key population areas, that... this particular operation will be focused on the regions that I mentioned.
Q: Okay. And other question, a lot simpler, does Pamir mean anything, and if so, what?
APPATHURAI: Good question. I have no translation for that. But we'll look into it.
APPATHURAI: Mountains. A mountain range. It's a mountain range. There you go.
Q: Yes, James, just on this Pamir operation, I just wonder how we're going to see the difference in terms of what goes on on the ground, because it seems to me if its main aim is to achieve a stronger security presence in key areas, that's precisely what ISAF is doing anyway. So is this just a new name for essentially what you're doing in the first place?
APPATHURAI: No, I have seen a graphic of how this operation should go forward. It is phased, it is focused, it has very specific areas in mind, and it has a clear set of steps that need to be taken to achieve a clear set of objectives. Obviously I cannot discuss the details of this. But it is not—how do I put this?—in charter fundamentally different than Now Ruz. That was what I tried to say, as it builds on Now Ruz. But it has very specific aims.
And by the way, all of these aims are designed with an eye to 2008, and framing the situation for 2008, to create the conditions for another set of operations.
So it is all done with a plan and it is not exactly what we've done before.
Q: (Inaudible)... that indeed that's going on, will there be, I don't know, any difference in terms of the type of operations, intensity of operations? Is there anything you can tell us on that front?
APPATHURAI: Well, I think what you will see is, if you see anything, you will see operations focused on particular areas, as I said, in a particular phasing, with a particular aim. Will they necessarily look different to the naked eye, I don't know? But they certainly will be following a determined plan with a key aim in mind, with a series of aims in mind.
Q: James, can you be a little bit more specific concerning the... how many trainers you have and how many you need?
APPATHURAI: I won't... I don't know about the numbers of trainers, but I know about the numbers of training teams, so I'll put it that way. In essence, we need 46 and we have 20 now. So we need the other 26. And that is for the current strength of the Afghan National Army. That strength will grow relatively quickly to 60, then to a 100... the requirement, sorry. The requirement will grow very quickly to 60, then a 100 or more, so NATO is going to have to move relatively quickly to continue to meet that rising target.
Q: One team, how many people does that represent?
APPATHURAI: I think it...
APPATHURAI: I think it varies quite significantly. I think it starts at 10, but it can go up. I can check that for you, by the way.
Q: James, you mentioned the problem of police training. I just wanted... since the changes which have taken place with the EU mission there, has there been any contact with the EU about how you can better dovetail those two operations and just maybe a related question, with the New Zealand Prime Minister is here today, what are you expecting from that with regard to Afghanistan?
APPATHURAI: When it comes to the Afghan National Police I can tell you there is good cooperation... sorry, with the EUPOL mission, which is what your question was, there is good cooperation between the—it's called—CSTC-A Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan. In other words, the coalition training effort, which is very, very significant, has poured, I think, billions into training. And they are in discussion with and good cooperation with EUPOL. This is what we were briefed today.
We, of course, have contacts with EUPOL, but NATO is not doing beyond... How do I put this? The EU is doing police training and CSTC-A, as they call it, is doing police training. NATO is not doing police training. So there's no particular need for coordination between NATO and the EU on that front.
Q: The outgoing... I think the outgoing commander of the EU force was quoted, I think, having some complaints about not having cooperation from NATO and not having sort of force protection automatically on hand. I wonder if there have been any changes regarding that?
APPATHURAI: The NATO approach is relatively clear, and I think is the way in which we will go forward, and I don't think it will have changed with the change of leadership.
And that is that NATO has been, as you've heard me say before, providing support to EU police or police from EU countries—because it wasn't at the time an EU mission, but at least from EU countries—in Kabul and I cannot imagine that as the EU mission grows NATO will provide less support to the EU officials than it does to officials in other, or from other organizations like the UN.
That's where we stand. And I don't think our approach has changed. In fact, our approach has not changed with the change of leadership of EUPOL.
Q: Bonjour, James, un an après le début de la prise, si j'ose dire, de l'Afghanistan tout entier par NATO-ISAF, il y a une nouvelle campagne qui s'appelle Pamir. J'ai aussi l'impression qu'il va y avoir aussi une autre campagne comme chaque année en septembre qui va commencer. C'est celle que nos alliés, partenaires, notamment d'Amérique du Nord vont lancer pour obtenir d'un certain de pays qu'ils envoient leurs soldats sur le front là où on se bat ou encore pour obtenir des hélicoptères, des hommes etc.
Est-ce exact qu'on en est à 40,000? Donc, est-ce qu'on va continuer de monter chaque année? Jusqu'à quand considéra-t-on que c'est insuffisant enfin...? Et est-ce qu'il est exact que l'OTAN désespérée va être obligé de louer des hélicoptères à des compagnies privées?
APPATHURAI: Eh, pour répondre à la première question, eh, nous ne cherchons pas d'augmenter le seuil... le ceiling de nombre de soldats qui sont nécessaires ou demandés requis pour l'Afghanistan. Nous avons un plan opérationnel, agréé par tous les 26... à tous les 26 pays qui demandent un certain nombre de troupes. Ce que l'OTAN demande de nos pays membres c'est de ne pas surmonter ce chiffre ni d'augmenter le chiffre mais juste de nous fournir, de fournir à l'opération ceux qui ont agréé et ceux qui sont d'accord est nécessaire.
Nous sommes presque là mais nous avons toujours des lacunes. Et ça comprend comme tu as mentionné des hélicoptères, des avions de transport et quelques forces sur le terrain. Pas beaucoup, beaucoup, moins qu'auparavant parce que nous avons beaucoup monté en nombre et en capacité depuis 18 mois. Mais il reste toujours des lacunes.
Alors, nous ne demandons pas plus des pays membres de ce que les pays membres sont d'accord est nécessaire. Et les Américains font partie du group de pays qui... qui peuvent y contribuer. Évidemment, les États-Unis fait beaucoup, beaucoup au sein de l'OTAN.
Est-ce que c'est possible que nous...? Est-ce que l'Alliance regarde la question de louer, leasing, je ne sais pas comment dire en français, leasing des hélicoptères? Oui, ça fait partie des considérations. Nous avons besoin d'hélicoptères en Afghanistan, partout et une des options considérées est de contracter des hélicoptères.
Nous avons, comme tu sais, un contrat pour le transport stratégique avec nos amis ukrainiens et russes qui marche très, très bien. Ça fait partie des opérations modernes de contracter du soutien logistique et autre, évidemment avec plus ou moins de succès des fois. Mais au sein de l'OTAN ça marche très bien. Alors, est-ce que ça fait partie des considérations? Oui. Est-ce qu'une décision a été prise? Non. Et est-ce que c'est complètement normal qu'on regarde ça. Oui, ça fait partie des opérations de l'OTAN depuis... depuis des années.
APPATHURAI: Aucune idée du chiffre.
Q: It's a completely different subject, is that okay?
Q: The NATO Response Force, last time we spoke, you said that the military was still discussing the various options and that it would move up to the political once they had a range of options in place. Could you give us an update on where that discussion is at?
APPATHURAI: My understanding is they still have... Robert, correct me if I'm wrong, but they still have not reached a formal decision on which way forward they wish. They're close, indeed, but they have not yet come to a final decision on which military... which option the military considers to be the best way forward.
But it's true that it's quite close.
Q: You mentioned one possibility might be reduce the number of standing troops, but keep the infrastructure and the command structure in place to bump it up at short notice.
Q: Any other options that you might be considering that you can tell us about?
APPATHURAI: It strikes me that this graduated approach is, indeed, the most likely way forward. The other... another option, which is the most obvious, is you keep it exactly the way it is now. Another option... well, I don't know what the other options were, but certainly those two were in consideration. I think there was another one, but I don't know what it is.
So clearly this particular option of a graduated approach, which I mentioned to you before, while not yet chosen by the military, seems to be sort of the leading horses.
Q: I've got two other questions completely unrelated subjects. One, I may be wrong, but were Finnish officials in today? Are they meeting at NATO? Were there any meetings planned?
APPATHURAI: Not with the Secretary General anyway. On what subject?
Q: I don't know. I guess (inaudible)... Times, we heard that the Finnish Foreign Minister was here and that he planned a meeting at NATO, but it doesn't sound as if that's...
APPATHURAI: Certainly no Finnish Foreign Minister. That I would have known about.
Q: Sure, okay. Well, fair enough. Second one, on counternarcotics in Afghanistan, the United States and Britain want the Alliance to commit more fully into interdiction activities, providing security back-up and so on, more intelligence. Having basically a direct role in interdiction, really for the first time, and I think this has happened in one-off situations in Kunduz, for example, but it's not the standard policy of the Alliance's, an I understand it anyway.
What is the Secretary General's view on this proposal?
APPATHURAI: I think the Secretary General would like, and will lead a discussion, as we get close to and at the Noordwijk defence ministers' meeting on what more NATO can do in the realm of counternarcotics within the existing operational plan.
There is no appetite that I can see, for opening up the operational plan. But there is definitely an appetite within the Alliance to explore what can be done within it, and more than has been done until now.
Now, does that include interdiction? Does it include going after drug labs? Does it include supporting efforts to block precursors from coming in to the country and that are used for processing opium? These will be the questions that will have to be addressed. I can't give you an answer now because they haven't had the discussion, but the Secretary General will certainly lead that discussion up to and at Noordwijk.
Q: So you think the question (inaudible)... types of activities, you know, for example, accompanying counternarcotics agents on raids and so on, it's not yet clear whether that would actually fall within the existing plan or whether a political decision would be needed?
APPATHURAI: I think there's two questions. You're right to raise it. One is, they need to have agreement as to what falls within the operational plan's parameters. And second, whether they want to give direction that those steps should be taken. And both of those discussions have to be had.
Yes, go ahead.
Q: To come back to the other question about New Zealand, and what you're expecting for those talks?
APPATHURAI: Oh I'm sorry, I'm sorry, totally forgot.
Q: And then another one, unrelated, given the attack on the African Union Forces in Darfur recently and the problems in mustering troops for the hybrid force, is there any evolution in NATO's position with regard to Darfur?
APPATHURAI: Thank you. New Zealand has a Provincial Reconstruction Team, as you know, in Afghanistan. And I am a 100 percent sure that the focus of their discussion will be on the Provincial Reconstruction Team, on the security situation in Afghanistan and in the North where I think that New Zealand PRT is located.
They... I think that... well, I'm quite sure that that will be the focus of the discussion.
In terms of the Darfur mission, yes, I have seen the same reports that you have. The simple answer is this: We have done until now what the African Union has asked of that and that is airlifted troops in and out. Another battalion has just been airlifted in the last couple of days for the African Union, so that work is ongoing, as is the training that we provide to the African Union. We have received no request for any other support from the African Union. NATO will only do what it is asked to do. I cannot say I expect anything... expect any further request from the AU, so that is where we stand. We are doing what we have been asked to do.
Q: Yes, is the PRT from New Zealand formally integrated within ISAF?
APPATHURAI: Yes. It is a NATO Provincial Reconstruction Team.
Q: James, a completely different subject. I'm (inaudible).... As you know, Japan's government is having a hard time trying to convince the Parliament on extension of the anti-terror mission in the Indian Ocean. My question is, what is NATO's stance on this and what happens if Japan's government decides not to extend this mission?
APPATHURAI: This is mission supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, not NATO. So in fact this is an issue to address to the Coalition and to the Americans.
Of course, Japan is playing an important role in two ways. One is supporting these OEF operations, which are very important, very important to NATO also. They're very important to Afghanistan. And second, because of course Japan is putting a lot of money through the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, which we consider to be very important. That is why we consider our relationship with Japan, our political relationship with Japan, so important. And the Secretary General, of course, has very close ties, and I'm sure he hopes and plans to make a visit there as soon as possible.
So, all this to say, it is Japan's decision to do what it, of course, will do. This is directly an issue for the coalition, but indirectly, of course, Japan's support for overall efforts in Afghanistan are of benefit to Afghanistan and to NATO as well.
Two. Here and then back.
APPATHURAI: Yes. When you say detailed question, I can't answer...
Q: No, well, you may not want to answer it, but who gave the briefing on training today?
APPATHURAI: I may not want to answer.
APPATHURAI: (Laughs). Sorry, it was a Council thing, so I can't... There's one back there.
Q: Au sujet de relations OTAN-Russie.
Q: Cette semaine, le ministre géorgien Baramidze responsable de questions d'intégration transatlantique a fait quelques déclarations concernant le passage probablement OTAN 2008 chez leur plan d'adhésion à l'OTAN. Vous pouvez confirmer, expliquer concernant la position officielle de l'OTAN?
APPATHURAI: Ce n'est pas la première fois évidemment que des politiciens géorgiens ont exprimé leurs espoirs que la Georgie rentre dans le Membership Action Plan en 2008. Nous n'en sommes pas là. Aucune décision n'a été prise. Nous avons un dialogue intensifié avec la Georgie, un partenariat qui est très important pour nous et pour eux aussi. Et c'est exactement pour ça que le secrétaire général y va en Georgie ce soir pour discuter le dialogue intensifié, notre partenariat, les relations de coopération. Nous les aidons dans les... dans leurs réformes. Mais la question de membership, de Membership Action Plan n'est pas sur la table de l'OTAN en présent pour la Georgie.
Q: Et les dates de visite?
APPATHURAI: Les dates, c'est ce soir jusqu'à demain.