by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen following the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers - Opening remarks
Good afternoon. Today we discussed our operations in Kosovo and Afghanistan.
We agreed that KFOR continues to play an indispensable role in Kosovo. And ministers made clear that they remain committed to sustaining that role. We also agreed that the security situation and freedom of movement have improved over the last six months, but that we must remain vigilant and strong.
We welcome the relaunching of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina facilitated by the European Union. We will continue to fully support that dialogue. All need to live up to their responsibilities and move the whole region forward.
In Afghanistan, NATO heads a strong coalition of 50 nations. Together with our Afghan partner, Ministers met to discuss the progress we made and the challenges we face.
As we prepare to complete our ISAF mission, this is clear to us all:
Our strategy is working and our timeline remains unchanged. All Allies and ISAF partners are fully committed to them. We are committed to seeing this mission through to the end of 2014.
And we are committed to launching a new mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces from 2015 – to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for terrorists.
Today, NATO defence ministers and the ministers from our potential operational partners concluded the first stage of planning for that new mission.
This will guide our military experts as they take the planning process forward. I expect us to agree on a detailed outline early next year, and to complete the plan well before the end of 2013.
This new mission will not be a combat mission. It will be a mission to train, advise and assist.
Of course, today we also discussed the current situation in Afghanistan. The clear message I heard from ministers is this: there are challenges, but we remain on course. The handover to Afghan security responsibility is unfolding as planned. And as that transition takes hold, you will see some of our forces redeploying or drawing down as part of the strategy we have all agreed. This is not a rush for the exit, but the logical result of transition.
We are training highly capable Afghan forces which are taking increasing responsibility for their own security. We are confident they will be ready by the end of 2014.
They are already in the lead for the protection of three quarters of the population. And in those areas, violence has not gone up. On the contrary, it has gone down. That is a testament to the growing capability of the Afghan security forces.
One specific example, in the Regional Command for Kabul, enemy attacks fell by 17% in the period from January to August this year, compared with the same period last year. And when the enemy did launch attacks, the Afghan forces took the lead in dealing with them.
And this is a vital point to make. I know that, in recent weeks, attention has focused on the challenge of insider attacks. This is a real challenge, and we take it very seriously.
The enemies of Afghanistan are using insider attacks to try to undermine trust and public confidence. But this will not work. We will not allow the enemy to change our strategy and undermine the trust and confidence we have built.
Afghan security forces have also been victims of insider attacks. We have a strong shared interest in working together to confront this threat. And we ARE dealing with it together. We and the Afghan government have together undertaken numerous measures to reduce the risk of insider attacks, including improved vetting and screening, counterintelligence, cultural awareness – and are constantly refining our approach.
No one can drive a wedge between ISAF and our Afghan partners. We remain fully committed to supporting the Afghan security forces as we transition full security control to them by the end of 2014.
So in conclusion, the insider attacks will not change our strategy. We will continue our training, advising and partnering strategy. We will continue to hand over security responsibility to the Afghan Security Forces. We will continue the planning for a training, advisory and assistance mission to take over when the Afghan combat mission ends by the end of 2014.
Our goal, our strategy, our timeline remain unchanged.
And with that, I am happy to take your questions.
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): Please don't forget to introduce yourself. And also please don't forget to turn your mobile devices to silent if you haven't already done so, thank you. Hum, Tolo TV.
Q: Yes, my name is Sharif Hasanyar for Tolo TV Afghanistan. Mister Secretary General, can you please tell me what will be the impact and the damage of insider attacks to the NATO mission in Afghanistan?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I would like to stress once again that these insider attacks will not have an impact on our strategy... neither our strategy; nor our timeline. We will continue to build up the capacity of the Afghan security forces. Soon, we will have reached our goal of having 352,000 Afghan security forces. We will continue our training, advisory and assistance activities to build up not only the quantity of Afghan security forces; but also the quality.
We will continue to mentor... continue our mentoring and partnering activities. And we will hand over in a gradual process lead responsibility for the security to the Afghan Security Forces, province by province. And that process will be completed by the end of 2014.
Already now, we have handed over lead responsibility to the Afghan Security Forces in areas that cover around 75% of the population. Soon, a fourth so-called tranche of transition will be announced by President Karzai. So we will continue according to the strategy and the timeline of the roadmap we outlined already in Lisbon in November 2010. And the insider attacks will not change that.
OANA LUNGESCU: BBC?
Q: Jonathan Beale, BBC. I know you can't give us specific numbers. But can you give us an idea of the scale of the drawdown that will take place next year. The British Defence Secretary said it will be significant as far British troops are concerned. And I think it would be helpful to get that idea; because otherwise there's a danger, I guess, to be interpreted as a rush to the exit which, you say, is not happening. And also another figure given that at the end of 2014 there could be as many as 20,000 international troops left in Afghanistan. Is that figure about right?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First on the post-2014 mission, we have not yet decided the size of that training mission. We are in a very early stage of planning. That decision will be taken at a later stage. And of course, the exact configuration will also depend... and size will also depend very much on the situation by the end of 2014. So, the brief answer is: no, we have not yet taken the decision on the size of the training mission post-2014.
Now, as regard the drawdown of troops during the rest of the transition period, we are now awaiting recommendations from our military commanders. I would expect such recommendations to be finalized by the end of this year. And political decisions will be taken based on military recommendations. So again, we have not today discussed how exactly to shape the drawdown.
But let me tell you that drawdowns, redeployments will follow an overall plan and be well coordinated within the ISAF Coalition. That's also a clear commitment from the meeting today. All ministers agreed that obviously there will be drawdowns and redeployments as a logical result of the handover of security responsibility to the Afghans. And consequently, we are able to change the role of our troops including draw down the number.
But this will take place according to the timelines and the roadmaps, and the overall strategy we have outlined. So it will not be a rush for the exit. And I stress this once again because... Now, I have to address you in a very open and frank way because I have seen many, many misinterpretations of these announcements of drawdowns. Please understand that these announcements are logical results of the handover of lead responsibility to the Afghans. It's not because ISAF partners rush for the exit. It's not because of lack of cohesion within our coalition.
On the contrary, we have agreed to hand over to the Afghans. And as they step forward, our troops can step backwards. And that's what will happen. So I have to tell you that it will not be breaking news when you can report drawdowns. You will see drawdowns; but it's not a rush for the exit. It takes place within the framework we have agreed all together.
OANA LUNGESCU: AP.
Q: I understand about drawdowns. But have any of the Allies indicated they would like to have more caveats added as a result of the insider attacks? So that's one question. And the other question, on Kosovo, are you looking at any reductions in the size of KFOR in the near future?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First on Afghanistan and caveats, no Ally or partner has requested more caveats. On Kosovo, we have no plans to reduce the troop presence in the near future. As you know, we have the ambition to gradually reduce our troop presence in Kosovo as the security situation, hopefully, continues to improve.
But because of the volatile situation we have witnessed during the recent 12 months, we have postponed the decision to reduce the number of troops in Kosovo. So at this meeting, we didn't discuss such troop reductions. What will happen will very much depend on the security situation on the ground? We will take not any step that can deteriorate the security situation in Kosovo. We will stay committed to fully implementing the United Nations mandate to ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all people in Kosovo.
OANA LUNGESCU: DPA?
Q: Martina Hartz (sp?) of German Press Agency, DPA. Could you maybe give out the reaction to the German's plans to more evenly spread troops in Kosovo, to not have them lumped in certain places; but to spread them more evenly? I think he made some proposals.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Hum, well, at the end of the day, it's for our military commanders to make decisions as to how they will deploy troops in Kosovo to get the most effective result. I think you will see some rebalancing in the coming month with a stronger focus on the North of Kosovo taking into account the volatile situation we have witnessed there.
OANA LUNGESCU: Question at the back.
Q: My name is Saddam Muhammad (sp?) from Radio Free Afghanistan. Many people in Afghanistan and in the region think that NATO by withdrawing combat forces from Afghanistan in 2014, leaving an unfinished war behind, how can you address this kind of concerns?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: We will definitely not leave behind a security vacuum. On the contrary, we have laid out a strategy according to which we will build up a very strong Afghan security force to take over when our current ISAF combat mission ends. And I feel confident, also based on the briefings we heard today from our commanders, I feel confident that the Afghan Security Forces will be able to take full responsibility for the security by the end of 2014. I have seen a lot of media reports about the capability of the Afghan Security Forces. But let me just draw you attention to a few facts.
The fact is that already now Afghan Security Forces are in the lead of more than half of security operations. And as I mentioned, when they have dealt with security incidents, they have done that in a very professional manner.
It's also a fact that 85% of the training activities are conducted by the Afghan Security Forces themselves. That's also a testament to an increasing quality of the Afghan Security Forces.
Now, when we have a look at the security situation overall, we've also seen a very positive development in provinces that have been handed over to lead Afghan responsibility. We have seen a decline in the number of enemy attacks in areas that are handed over to lead responsibility for the Afghan Security Forces.
And finally, it's also a fact that 80% of the enemy attacks take place in areas where only 20% of the Afghan population live. In other words, a huge majority of the Afghans live in areas where the situation is relatively calm and stable.
I mentioned these facts and figures to illustrate that the security situation, though there's still challenges, is improving and the capability of the Afghan Security Forces is also improving. And based on that, I feel confident that the Afghan Security Forces will be able to take full responsibility by the end of 2014.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. That's all we have time for now. But I think you will probably see the Secretary General back on this stage shortly.