Weekly press briefing

by NATO Spokesman James Appathurai

  • 26 Aug. 2009
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  • Last updated: 27 Aug. 2009 14:34

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Colleagues, thank you all for coming. I hope those of you who had a break—you definitely had one, I see some tans. I can see exactly who had a break... and who didn't.


But it's great to see you and as you can probably see, I had one too, and I'm very happy to be back, as you know, under new management.

And speaking of the new management, on behalf of the Secretary General, I, on behalf of the Secretary General... no, let me rephrase it.

The Secretary General condemns, on behalf of NATO, the bombing that took place in Kandahar. This was obviously carried out without the slighted regard for civilian life and achieved really tragic levels of civilian casualties. I have seen, before I arrived here, that the Taleban denied responsibility. They do not get to wash their hands of this. The Taleban carries out terrorist attacks on a regular basis, throughout the country. They are the host for terrorist organizations that carry out attacks on civilians throughout the country. They cannot absolve themselves of responsibility for this attack. Either directly or indirectly.

To give details, while I'm talking about civilian casualties, we had discussed the very reduced levels of civilian casualties since the new COMISAF’s tactical directive had gone into force. You may have seen, I think it was an Associated Press story out of Kabul, stating that according to their figures, the figures for civilian casualties for NATO ISAF for July... no, for June... no, for July, I'm quoting AP now, were six, total. I give you their figures, not ours. But I have to say ours are not that far off from theirs.

Let me give you our statistics for the last two weeks; i.e. election week and this week, which is not yet complete, weeks 34 and 35. Week 34, civilians killed by Taleban or other insurgents, 45. That's during election week. And 236 injured. By ISAF, 0 killed, 6 injured. This week so far, including the Kandahar bombing, it's Wednesday morning, civilians killed by the Taleban or other insurgents, 55. By ISAF, 0. Injured, 76. ISAF, 8.

I want to put, again, and I will continue to put into perspective, the civilian casualties inflicted by other parties as opposed to where I think there is quite significant process by NATO ISAF.

I might add, that while I'm not at liberty to name the organization because they haven't given me that... well, I haven't asked for it, so I can't say, they haven't given it, but I haven't asked for permission to use it, another major international organization in Afghanistan, present in Afghanistan, corroborates those figures. So they're not just ours, they are reflected by other organizations as well.

But you'll have to take my word for it because I can't say what the organization is.

On the elections, a couple of points. From a security point of view the Secretary General assessed on the day of the elections that he considered the support activities provided by NATO and the security activities carried out by the Afghan security forces to have been successful.

We have now received assessments, including figures from a security point of view of what took place on election day and his initial assessment was, we think, correct. Ninety-five percent of the polling stations that were planned to open opened. In other words, 6,199 of the 6,500, 6,200 of the 6,500 polling stations that were projected to open did open. Only 2 percent of the total were directly attacked.

The Secretary General has correctly given credit first and foremost to the Afghan Security Forces. They provided first and second tier security. But from a security point of view we can be satisfied with what was done on election day.

We have yesterday seen partial and preliminary results released by the Independent Election Commission. The bottom line is this: all the speculation about participation, about results, or about fraud is, at this point, only speculation. Only in mid-September when the complaints are addressed and the count is complete and certified will the responsible bodies, and that is, in particular, the Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission, make the results known. So we will not, at NATO, speculate on any of the issues related to results, to participation or to fraud. It is simply too early to do that and we are not the body responsible to do it.

That being said, the Secretary General yesterday reaffirmed a message that he conveyed personally to Afghan leaders when he was in Afghanistan in his first week and that is that it is important for all parties, all political parties and individuals in Afghanistan to maintain a responsible attitude in what they say and do during this sensitive period.

If, and I say if there is an runoff, NATO will be in a position to provide the same levels of support that we provided for the round that took place on the 20th. NATO ISAF forces are now continuing to support the election process by helping to transport voting materials and those individuals who had been working on the elections back towards counting centres. Regular operations have resumed. They had been suspended for a moment during the elections, so they have now resumed.

Next, two quick points, then I'm happy to take your questions. Two visits that the Secretary General... three visits, in a sense, that the Secretary General is going to make in the coming week.

He will leave today for visits to Greece and Turkey. Greece tomorrow, Turkey on Friday. He will meet in Greece with the Minister of Defence, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Prime Minister and we will send out... I think we may already have sent out media advisories giving the details of the press activities and with the President Gul. And then Prime Minister Erdogan. It is no secret... sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry. First Greece, excuse me. Greece.

Greece. Minister of Defence, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prime Minister Karamanlis. Then he will move to Ankara. That is tomorrow afternoon he will meet with President Gul, with Prime Minister Erdogan. He will attend an iftar dinner. This is a dinner which during the month of Ramadan... during which the month of Ramadan the fast during the day is broken at the end of the day, at sundown. This will hosted by Prime Minister Erdogan.

Q: Is that in Istanbul?

JAMES APPATHURAI: That is in Istanbul, exactly. And then he will move to Ankara and meet with the Foreign Minister, the Chief of Staff and perhaps the Defence Minister, but actually I think I've lost the last page, so you'll see it in the media advisory. Didn't bring the last page with me. Sorry about that.

He will wish to discuss in both countries, of course, first and foremost, Afghanistan. We are in a period of some complexity. The election period you know very well. We are also anticipating relatively soon the 60-day review completed by COMISAF. Whatever that review says, and we'll wait to see what the results are, it is quite clear that the Secretary General wishes to encourage allies to invest heavily in training and equipping the Afghan National Security Forces so that we can move during his tenure to a position in which increasingly Afghans have lead security responsibility for their own country, and we are in a supporting role.

And as he has said, district by district, province by province, he wishes to see this happen, and so he will, I am quite sure, discuss with both his Turkish and Greek interlocutors how we can provide more support to the training and equipping effort.

He will also discuss, as he has put onto his blog, with both countries, the effect that bilateral disputes between the two countries is having for NATO, and in particular for NATO-EU relations. There are core issues, which we all know of, including Cyprus, which are bilateral issues, and which he does not expect to be solved tomorrow.

But these bilateral issues are having perverse, negative effects in areas which he does not believe... firmly does not believe were intended by the political leadership in either country, but which are real, and which have the potential to put our personnel at risk. For example, we are unable, between NATO and the European Union, to have a security agreement between NATO and the EU for the protection and transport of EU civilian personnel, civilian police in Afghanistan. We need police trainers in Afghanistan, and I say we meaning the international community.

It does not make sense, that's the bottom line, that NATO is unable to provide support to the European Union for a common endeavour in Afghanistan of clear strategic importance to all the countries in both organizations.

So he will speak with the political leadership in Greece and Turkey to express his hope that the effects of these disagreements between these two countries can be mitigated and that a pragmatic approach, particularly with regard to personnel in the field, can be taken. He intends to focus on this issue during his tenure.

That's it for those two trips. Finally, I can announce, because we have not yet announced it, on Thursday, the third of September, the Secretary General will go to Paris. He will meet with the Minister of Defence, with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, with the President of the Senate, and then with, of course, President Sarkozy and Prime Minister Fillon. These are separate meetings, President Sarkozy and then Prime Minister Fillon.

Press activities are yet to be confirmed, but we will send out a media advisory when we know what they are.

Final, final point. The change of command ceremony for Allied Command Transformation will take place on the 9th of September. The Secretary General will attend. As you know a French general will be taking command of this for the first time. The SecGen will attend, a number of permanent representatives, NATO ambassadors and military representatives. A few seats are available on the plane for Brussels-based media. So if you are interested in coming along to Norfolk the contact is my colleague Damien Arnaud at my office. His number is 02-707-5038. Again, 5038. Interested media please do contact him as soon as possible. Departure from Brussels is midday on the 8th of December(sic) and return to Brussels is very early morning, and if he writes that it means really early morning, on the 10th of September. So I encourage you to get in touch with him.


JAMES APPATHURAI: September, yeah. Sorry, did I not say September? Oh, excuse me, September, September. That's what I got. Happy to take your questions.


Q:Yes, Brooks Tigner, Janes Defense...

JAMES APPATHURAI: I'm hoping that 2009 is the year that I can answer one of your questions. (Laughs).

Q:This one you can answer. This one you can answer. It's a generic question about this idea of the Turkish-Greece dispute. What kind of sort of temporary or bridging solution might be envisioned to protect the police trainers? I mean, would this mean getting the two sides to at least suspend a part of the EU-U.S. ... pardon, EU-NATO dispute? I mean, what's at play there?

JAMES APPATHURAI: Well, the reality is that we have, in essence, a pragmatic solution on the ground, and the pragmatic solution is that on an ad hoc basis EU police personnel can make and do make arrangements bilaterally in essence with troop-contributing nations. And so there is a framework, or... no, there is no framework. There is a patchwork of arrangements in place. But as I say, it is ad hoc, it is not comprehensive, and it is not between the two bodies bringing into play all the relevant issues.

And it puts an enormous logistical and administrative burden on the EU to make all of these individual bilateral arrangements for transport and for protection. The Secretary General believes that comprehensive arrangements between the two organizations makes sense, and are better for the EU and therefore make for a more effective European Union presence, which is necessary to our NATO effort and that is the key point here. Or a key point, amongst many others.

The longer we stay in Afghanistan, the more it costs us and in very clear terms in lives, and in money. We will be able to hand over more quickly lead responsibility to the Afghans when they are trained and able to do it, and we have every interest in NATO in encouraging Afghan... or sorry, international police to be present in as large numbers as possible.

Q:(Inaudible...) the Secretary General going to Turkey, as Turkey's a Muslim country and is there inferred on the part of NATO to involve Turkey more in order to have more conducive environment in Afghanistan to get out of the tension with the locals?

JAMES APPATHURAI: The Secretary General is well aware that Turkey has two important roles to play with regard to the Afghanistan conflict. One is military. Turkey has played and continues to play an important role on the ground, and it will play an even more important role, I believe, in November, when Turkey takes command of RC Centre with over a 1,000 troops.

Turkey also has, and in this sense, almost a unique role politically because it has good relations with Pakistan, it has good relations with Afghanistan and has invested heavily and very usefully, from a NATO point of view, in bringing the two countries together. And that is not an abstract part of the solution. It's a very real and concrete part of the solution. The Secretary General will certainly encourage, I think, both of those tracks to be pursued and pursued even more energetically.

I think it's also true that we can all see that the presence of Turkish troops on the ground makes it clear that this has nothing to do with religion. This is a fight against terrorism. Turkey is as aware as any country of the menace of terrorism and feels it. Not just domestic terrorism, but international terrorism. And we all know that al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, if they find safe haven in Afghanistan, will move quickly into and through Central Asia, and we will all, including Turkey, face that problem.

So for all of these reasons Turkey is very, very important to this and the Secretary General makes his first... or one of his first... I think it'll be his third or fourth visit since he took up his office, to Turkey for that reason.

Q:If the Secretary General wants to do something about the problems between the EU and NATO shouldn't he also be talking to the Cypriots?

JAMES APPATHURAI: He is talking to allies and that is, of course, the first discussion he has to have. Cyprus is neither a member of NATO, nor a member of Partnership for Peace. So structurally you could see why he would be having a discussion on Greek-Turkish relations with Greece and Turkey first and foremost.

Q:Yes, a question about the SecGen's reaction to the Afghan elections, because I was watching the streaming, and you said that he was only talking about the security point of view, but I seem to recall that he gave sort of an impression that he was congratulating the Afghans for an election day that was more successful than you could fear in all this and wouldn't you say that that was sort of premature when you're talking about... and knowing all the uncertainties that we now know that is during these elections.

And do you share also, as a second question, do you share also, the view that the runoff can be dangerous for Afghanistan and sectarian violence, north, south, et cetera?

JAMES APPATHURAI: In terms of the Secretary General's statement I think he was quite careful in saying, from a security point of view. That was the first clause of the first sentence of his statement, that they were... and he went on to say it was more successful... yesterday he went on to say it was more successful for the security point of view than some could have expected, and I think, again, strictly from a security prism, we can agree with that.

Well, I'm paid to agree with him, but even so I do.


But I think the overall assessment, if you look back, even at the media coverage, that has not been the story. The polls were open in general and in most of the country so it was not nearly as bad as some had feared, and in many cases it was better than we had expected, so he did, as I recall, quite carefully frame what he said.

In terms of runoff, it is obviously very dangerous to speculate on anything, but I come back to what was said by the Secretary General personally to the opposition leaders with whom he met in Afghanistan. He had individual meetings with the leadership, various political leaders, the most prominent, let us say, candidates. And very clearly I can tell you encouraged them to act in a responsible manner, to encourage their followers to act in a responsible manner. He continues to do that. He is not the only one to continue to do that.

I think we all want to see a situation in which the election process is completed in such a way as to A, be seen as credible in the eyes of the Afghan people, be seen as representative, or as representative as possible, and at the end of the day, when all of the political process surrounding the election is complete, helping to bring Afghans together and not separate them.

But it is not for NATO, of course, beyond that, to intervene in this kind of political maneouvring.

Q:James, a question on Kosovo. I hear there is a review going on as far as the troop presence in Kosovo is concerned with a broad idea maybe to reduce NATO troops in Kosovo. What is the timeframe? How is that going? Thanks.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Well, it's beyond a review. A decision has been taken by the allies to move to what we call deterrent posture. They will move, I fully anticipate, to a deterrent posture around January, which would see a reduction of the current force levels, which is around 14,000 to around 10,000.

Any subsequent move beyond that phase, to smaller force levels, will be made on the basis of a military and political assessment.

There are expected to be three phases in the transition to deterrent presence. The first phase, as I say, is expected for January. It is expected it will lead to 10,000 as the force level. Any move beyond that will be based, as I say, on political and military assessments.

And sorry, just to put it into the context, which I should put it into, this decision is based on the assessment that the security situation in Kosovo allows for it, that the Kosovar institutions and the international institutions, civilian institutions that are there, are increasingly capable of providing security and that a military presence, or the size of the military presence is less necessary. Or can be smaller. Can be smaller.

But there is no decision taken to withdraw. Deterrent presence does not lead to zero, to be very clear.

Q:James, I think I know what you're going to say, but just to ask it anyway. Going back to the "clear-hold-build" strategy in Afghanistan, where NATO's role was clearing, as I understand, and hold was hopefully going to be left to the police, supported by the EU, it seems more and more of the police-hold type trainings are being... well, functions, are being taken on by NATO.

Is there a sense in which NATO is losing patience with, or perhaps starting, in the interest of expediency, taking on a lot more of those police-type activities, given the military nature of police activities in Afghanistan and perhaps not as much effectiveness of the EU on the ground as you were hoping for?

JAMES APPATHURAI: First, no, NATO is not taking on police roles. What we are doing is stepping up police training, and the first part of that has to be implementation of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan. The initial operational capability of the NATO Training Mission Afghanistan is expected to be within the first two weeks of September. So it is very much on track to be put in place, and that will bring under the NATO umbrella police training for Afghan police, with the exception of the European EUPOL effort that will not be under the NATO umbrella, but pretty much everything else will be. And that will include the provision of all kinds of support.

So we are going to step up our training for the Afghan police. And by the way, also for the Afghan army, which is the second part of that. So that they can carry out their duties.

So no frustration on the part of NATO, nor are we trying to take on their roles, but I know you have a follow up, go ahead.

Q:Is taking on police training not a fairly radical departure from the original operation plan?

JAMES APPATHURAI: Nothing that is being done is in any way a departure from our operational plans. That goes without saying. Everything that's being done is according to our operational plans. Is it an expansion of the role that NATO had when we took this on? Yes, you're absolutely right. But it has to be done.

Let me put it into some kind of context though. Much of this is simply moving what the U.S. is doing, which is the bulk of the effort in Afghanistan, let's face it, with the Training Command, into a NATO context with a double-hatted commander. So it is more to bring coherence to the overall training effort, rather than something substantially new in terms of the overall international effort in Afghanistan.

Q:James, j'ai trois petites questions. La première, c'est concernant la déclaration qui a été signée le 21 août entre l'OTAN et l'Ukraine. J'aimerais savoir est-ce que l'OTAN est prêt... est-elle prête d'accorder une aide militaire à l'Ukraine s'il y a une menace à l'intégralité territoriale de ce pays-là? Deuxièmement, est-ce que tu peux nous informer de l'agenda prochain du Conseil OTAN-Russie? Et j'aimerais aussi savoir est-ce qu'on peut parler aujourd'hui de la restauration en quelque sorte de la coopération militaire entre l'OTAN et la Russie après cette histoire avec Arctic Sea, quand la coordination était vraiment très effective? Merci.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Moi, j'ai deux questions. C'est l'Ukraine; prochain conseil OTAN-Russie. Et le troisième, c'est est-ce que la coopération est...?

Q:C'est l'histoire avec Arctic Sea.

JAMES APPATHURAI: En tant que l'Ukraine, moi, je n'étais pas ici pendant la signature de ce document. Mais si je comprends bien, j'ai vu les rapports dans la presse qui disaient que maintenant l'OTAN... l'Ukraine avait le droit de demander une réunion du Conseil Ukraine-OTAN en cas d'urgence. C'est effectivement le cas. Mais c'est aussi le cas pour n'importe quel partenaire. Alors, oui, ils ont le droit de demander une réunion. Évidemment, ils n'ont pas le droit de demander quoi que ce soit en tant que soutien militaire ni d'assurance de sécurité. Il n'y aucune promesse cachée dedans. Mais est-ce qu'ils ont le droit de demander une réunion. Oui, mais ils l'ont toujours eu. Et tous les partenaires l'ont.

Je n'ai aucune idée, je suis désolé de l'agenda ni de la date. Franchement, c'est troisième journée du prochain Conseil OTAN-Russie. Mais peut-être quelqu'un va m'envoyer un SMS pour me le dire.

Arctic Sea, tout ce que je peux dire, c'est qu'effectivement l'OTAN a communiqué avec la Russie à ce sujet. Heureusement, le bateau a été trouvé par les autorités russes. Et c'est tout ce je sais dire.

Q:Je voudrais, Philippe Siberski, Agence France-Presse. Une petite question, un peu de contexte historique à propos de la Turquie et de la Grèce. Est-ce que c'est la première fois qu'un secretaire-général de l'OTAN dans les années récentes s'implique vraiment dans une dispute bilatérale entre deux États membres et leur dit: "Arrêtez de vous disputer. Ça nous pose des problèmes". Moi, je ne me souviens pas d'autres exemples récents. Est-ce que toi tu peux..?

JAMES APPATHURAI: Très simplement, je pense que la réponse est oui, dans ma mémoire oui.

Did you have a question? Yeah, no, okay. And here, and I think that will be it. Oh!

Q:James, this briefing coincides with the first anniversary of the recognition by Russia of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, so does it still make sense to talk about territorial integrity of Georgia? Are we facing effectively, sorry to be blunt, a defeat by NATO on this front?

JAMES APPATHURAI: Well, I think there's a pretty clear answer to that. I don't know exactly how many countries are in the United Nations. I think there's 200. If it's 200, 199... or 198 have not recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Only Nicaragua followed Russia. That was immediately after Russian recognition. No other country followed Russia in recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

If there is a diplomatic failure it is not NATO's. There are 198 countries, or please do the math for me if I get it wrong, 198 countries that recognize Georgia's territorial integrity to include those two parts of that country. So the way I do the handicap, NATO has not A, this is not a game, that's the first point, so let me take back the handicap. This is not a game. It's not a question of winning or losing, but certainly the recognition, the attempt to get international recognition for Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent republics has failed. That is clear.

Go ahead.

Q:One last question on Arctic Sea. Now I understand that NATO is reluctant to comment on events during the hijack or whatever happened because there was some ongoing effort to rescue those sailors, but this has been over for more than a week now. Why can't you tell us anything now? There's no danger that they'll be harmed by the hijackers, they've been arrested.

JAMES APPATHURAI: All I can say is what I have said. (Laughs). Sorry. That's the way it is. It was a good question, though.

Q:Back to Afghanistan, somewhat speculatively, with NATO limiting its remit to matters of security alone on an issue like this, the elections, one of the biggest days, I suppose, for Afghanistan over the past ten years, who does that leave in charge of things like the quality of democracy, human rights, the rule of law, that sort of thing? The UN, the international community? I mean, if everything should go to the dogs who would be to blame?

JAMES APPATHURAI: Well, it is a very, very important question. And one with which we wrestle constantly. The bottom line is this: The Afghans, first and foremost, have responsibility for what takes place in their country. And that is not, again, an empty statement. That is a real statement. And we have to, as an international community, not just NATO, build up their capacity to govern their country in an efficient, non-corrupt and credible way.

And all of the NATO countries, all of the partner countries, all of the bilateral donors, the UN and the EU all support them, encourage them, sometimes criticize them, to help them do that.

UNAMA has a mandate from the United Nations to play a political role in Afghanistan in encouraging progress in all those areas. That is the mandate they have. It is not the mandate that we have.

But you, I think quite correctly, pinpoint the frustration that NATO often has. That we, in the end, feel the effects in a very direct way, of lack... when there is lack of progress in all of these areas. Because lack of progress in these areas undermines confidence of the Afghan people in their government and therefore gives oxygen to the insurgency.

And this is why this Secretary General, the previous Secretary General, has pushed so hard on other international organizations and on the Afghans to make progress. We find ourselves in a security environment in Afghanistan which I think is something reflected in many other parts of the world, where the military alone cannot solve the problem, but the military can also not take responsibility for all the civilian things that need to be done.

So this is what we call comprehensive approach. That is an abstract term for a very real requirement from NATO of our partners, Afghan and others.

Last one, then I've got to run.

Q:James, on yesterday's bombing in Kandahar, do you have any information on what might have been the target?

JAMES APPATHURAI: I don't. I couldn't come to the Council this morning because I was coming here a little bit early before the departure to Greece and Turkey so I didn't get anything. All I've seen is the press reports, which are very different. Al Jazeera, I saw James Bays saying there was no internationals in the area, it was just this Japanese company that was the target with Pakistani employees. I saw the New York Times, an Afghan journalist saying this is where the UN and the international aid agencies are and the NGOs are housed, so I don't know the answer.

Q:On some of the figures you mentioned, at the beginning, you said last week six people were injured by... six civilians were injured by ISAF, and eight this week.


Q:How did they get injured?


Q:How did they get injured, by ISAF?


Q:But civilians how did they... get hurt?

JAMES APPATHURAI: How did they get hurt?


JAMES APPATHURAI: In each individual case? I don't know. I don't know. It is assessed by our experts, but I don't have the detail on how exactly they were hurt.

Thank you, colleagues, friends.