Afghanistan: Worth the Cost
Speech by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Luxemburg
Members of Parliament,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me start by welcoming you to this joint meeting. In my introduction I will talk about our highest operational priority, Afghanistan. For eleven years, the International Security Assistance Force has carried out its responsibilities. Our troops, our nations, and the whole international community have made an unprecedented investment in blood and treasure in Afghanistan. So I want to answer the question that we all face, as politicians: Have our efforts been worth the cost?
My short answer is yes. And my long answer is absolutely yes.
Remember. In 2001, Afghanistan was used as a launching pad by international terrorists to devastating effect. That launching pad is no more. And the threat to our nations has been reduced. So we have made real and tangible progress.
NATO’s job is not to build a perfect state. We went to Afghanistan to protect our security by helping Afghans take control of their own security. And that is what we are doing, as requested by the Afghan government and mandated by the United Nations.
ISAF is the biggest coalition in recent history. And our support for the development of the Afghan security forces is without parallel. We have provided the resources, the skills, and the time for them to grow. Soon, thanks to our shared efforts, transition to Afghan security responsibility will reach a significant milestone. And our shared goal is within reach.
This was very clear when I recently visited Helmand province. I met our service members, Afghan troops and local leaders. I have visited Helmand several times over the last six years. This time, I saw a significant shift.
I saw that Afghan soldiers are increasingly capable, confident and in command. They conduct nearly all security operations
I saw that ISAF’s role has already largely shifted to training, advising and mentoring. Although they remain ready for combat if required.
And I saw that this shift is not just happening in Helmand, but throughout the country.
Afghan soldiers and police now have the lead for the security of 87% of the population. They deliver up to 90% of their own training. And they lead 95% of all operations.
Afghan forces are getting stronger. And they are getting ready for more.
Within the coming weeks, we will reach an important milestone, which will mark the progress we have made. We will see Afghans taking the lead for security across the country, and ISAF completing its shift from a combat to a support role.
At the end of 2014, our combat mission will be completed. A new and different chapter in our engagement with Afghanistan will begin.
As you know we agreed at the Chicago summit last year, to establish a new and different mission. A mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces after 2014. A mission that will be smaller in scope and size than our current mission. Several Allies and Partners have already announced their intent to contribute. I welcome and appreciate those announcements. And I expect others in due course.
So our commitment to Afghanistan will continue. But let me be clear. Commitment is a two-way street.
The government of Afghanistan has made commitments to hold credible elections. To fight corruption, to improve governance. To uphold the constitution, especially human rights, including of course women’s rights. And to enforce the rule of law. The continued efforts of the government of Afghanistan to deliver on its commitments will pave the way for our continued support.
With our support, Afghanistan has already come a long way. It is a different country from what it was in the dark days of the Taliban.
Under the Taliban, a country the size of France had only 49 kilometers of built roads. Now, it has over thirty-two thousand.
Under the Taliban, the economy failed to function. Now Afghan Gross Domestic Product is expanding at over 7% a year. Seventy percent of Afghans use a mobile phone and millions use the internet.
Under the Taliban, only a million boys received any form of education. Now more than eight million children attend school. Over a third of them are girls.
And according to the United Nations’ latest Human Development report, during the last 12 years, Afghanistan achieved the fastest growth in South Asia in the combined areas of health, education and living standards. Maternal mortality is going down, life expectancy is rising.
All this matters, because Afghanistan is going not just through a security transition, but also an economic and a political transition. While we still face challenges, the security transition is well advanced. But continued progress on the economic and political tracks is key to sustaining our hard-won security gains.
That’s why NATO’s commitment is only part of the solution. We are part of a larger effort that includes commitments from the whole international community, and Afghanistan’s regional partners.
On my last trip to Kabul, I met an inspiring group of young Afghan leaders. These men and women represent the new Afghanistan. They had different ethnic backgrounds, different professions. But they were all dedicated to creating a stable, prosperous and tolerant future. And committed to the constitution of Afghanistan.
They told me: Afghanistan is our country. It is our responsibility.
They showed me that a new Afghan generation is ready to shape its own future.
And they reminded me that a stable and secure Afghanistan in the heart of Asia will be an asset for the region and for us all.
All this has been achieved at a great cost. We owe a huge debt of thanks to the brave troops of all the 50 countries who are part of ISAF. And to their families and loved ones. Their sacrifices and their efforts have not been in vain.
They have made all our nations more secure. And they have made our Alliance stronger. We now have the most capable, deployable, and flexible forces in history. We must continue to build on their experience. And on the lessons that we have learnt in Afghanistan, among Allies and with our partners, as we strive to keep NATO fit for the future after ISAF.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We can be proud of what we have accomplished in Afghanistan. Our efforts have been worth the investment and worth the cost. We have enhanced our security. And we have given the Afghans the opportunity, the skills, and the resources to build their future.
We have faced tremendous challenges, and there are still challenges ahead, let’s face it. But with our support, Afghanistan has a strong foundation to build a secure future. It is ultimately to the Afghans themselves to make that a success.
With that, I look very much forward to taking your questions – on Afghanistan or any other issues. And of course, the Ambassadors, the members of the Atlantic Council, will also be happy to take any question you may have.