Closing press conference
by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen following the meetings of NATO Defence Ministers
We have just had a productive discussion on our mission in Afghanistan. And on the new and different mission we are planning after 2014. Because 2014 will mark the end of our combat mission, but also a new beginning for Afghanistan.
At the end of 2014, the Afghan forces will be responsible for security across their country. This will mark a turning point in Afghanistan’s history. The Afghan people will be fully responsible for their country’s freedom. Their country’s fate. And their country’s future.
But they will not stand alone. The international community has committed to support Afghanistan in the years to come. Countries from across the world have already pledged their aid.
And we in NATO will do our part to help the Afghan security forces become sustainable. So that they have the skills they need to make their country safe, and keep it safe.
We are planning a new mission. To train, advise and assist the Afghan forces after 2014. The mission will be called Resolute Support.
It is a year and a half before this new NATO-led mission will be launched. But we are getting prepared. Last October, we approved the broad framework of a plan for the mission, and began more detailed work.
Today, we took the next step. We have just endorsed the detailed concept of our non-combat mission in Afghanistan. That concept will guide our military experts as they finalise the plan, in the course of the coming months.
The new mission will not be ISAF by another name. It will be different and significantly smaller. Its aim will be to train, advise and assist the Afghan forces – not substitute for them.
It will be based on a limited regional approach based on five locations in Kabul and in the North, West, South and East.
And it will focus on the national institutions, such as the security ministries, and the corps levels of army and police command.
Over the last 11 years, we have given the Afghans the space to build their future. With this new mission, we will continue to support them.
But ultimately, it is for the Afghans to determine their own future. That is what security transition is all about. And we are about to reach a key milestone in that journey.
Today, we also held a meeting of the NATO-Georgia Commission.
Georgia is a committed partner. The largest non-NATO contributor to ISAF. A potential partner for our future Afghan mission. And a country which aspires to join our Alliance.
All this shows impressive commitment. Especially at a time when Georgia is conducting its own defence reforms – reforms which are demanding, and far-reaching.
Today, ministers expressed their appreciation for all Georgia has done to support our common goals. They reaffirmed NATO’s continued support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and sovereignty within its internationally recognized borders. And they made clear that they are ready to support and assist Georgia as it moves ahead with its reforms.
Our partnership is based on values. NATO stands for the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms. So we look to Georgia to respect the rule of law, human rights and the rights of minorities. And we encourage Georgia to continue key reforms and to conduct free and fair presidential elections later this year.
With that, I am ready to take your questions.
Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson): We'll start with Imedi TV, first row. Next.
Q: Georgian TV Company, TV Imedi, (inaudible...). A few days ago Russia started new lines(?) of demarcation on Georgia's conflict region. In order to move the occupation line Russian militaries are making installation of barbed wires and pillars of the Tskhinvali region and today Deputy Secretary of Russia Security Council, Rashid Nurgaliyev, today said that in the near future in this region Russia will build 200 small houses.
It is a problem for people who live in this area. I was there a few days ago, before I came here. I talked to these people and they are afraid that they will lose their houses and this is the main problem for them.
Can I ask you, what's your position about these facts.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen (NATO Secretary General): Let me be very clear. Building such fences is a violation of international law, and of the 2008 agreement. Building fences impedes freedom of movement. It can further inflame tensions. It is simply not acceptable. And we urge Russia to live up to her international obligations.
Oana Lungescu: Radio Free Europe, right next, there.
Q: Koba Likikadze, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, Georgian Service. Mr. Secretary General, can I ask you about recent developments in Georgia? I mean, prosecution of political rebels, political opponents in Georgia. Specifically, you know that a few weeks ago former Prime Minister of Georgia, Vano Merabishvili, is jailed and charged because of abuse of power, embezzlement and a fraud of words(?). To have perception I remember your sharp critic in November, at the NATO parliamentary assembly in Prague—I was there—that it's a kind of resembles Ukraine, except it's a politically motivated prosecution of political opponents in Georgia.
Thank you very much.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: We are following these developments with great concern. Obviously, we are not going to interfere with legal cases and the judiciary in Georgia. In today's meeting with the Georgian Minister of Defence, I made clear, and Ministers made clear, that we take it for granted that the Georgian authorities will fully respect the fundamental principles of rule of law and will guarantee due process.
We have made clear that even the perception, even the perception of politically motivated arrests should be avoided and we expect Georgia to live up to those fundamental principles.
Oana Lungescu: We'll go over here. TOLO TV.
Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary. (inaudible...) from TOLO TV in Afghanistan. The people of Afghanistan are worried about two important things. One is, of course, when the responsibility... combat responsibilities, where security is handing over to Afghan Forces, to them this seems like... it's tantamount to Afghanization of a global war that they feel both victim and foot soldiers of that war. On the other hand, they're also worried that they're also a victim of things that you mentioned yesterday, about governance, rule of law and worried about an election that is upcoming, and that the international community has not been able to keep the Afghan government accountable to. So both are worrying.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: On the first issue, security. As I said in my introduction, let me assure you that Afghanistan will not stand alone. We will still be there to train, advise, assist the Afghan Security Forces. And the whole point is that we have spent time and effort, in collaboration with the Afghan authorities, to build a very strong and very capable Afghan Security Force.
In today's meeting COMISAF could refer to examples as to how professionally Afghan Security Forces have dealt with security challenges in Afghanistan. So we see an increasing capability.
In other words, I feel confident that by the end of 2014 the Afghan Security Forces will be able to take full responsibility for the security and provide that secure environment for the Afghan people that is essential for further economic and social development in Afghanistan.
Which leads me to the second part of your question. Obviously, security is only one side of the coin. Another equally important side is government. It is to build trust between the Afghan people and the Afghan government. And to build that trust we need a reinforced fight against corruption, against drugs production and drugs trade. We need to see human rights, including, of course, women's rights, full respected. All these elements are essential if we are to enjoy long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan.
I have discussed these matters with President Karzai on several occasions and made clear that commitment is a two-way street. The international community has committed itself to continue assisting Afghanistan. But on the other hand we also expect from the Afghan government to live up to the international obligations including full respect for basic democratic principles and human rights.
And I feel confident that the Afghan political leadership stays committed to pursuing that to pass. So all-in-all I'm quite optimistic about the future of Afghanistan.
And let me, just to conclude that, tell you that I had a very encouraging experience last time I visited Kabul. I met with a group of young leaders from all walks of life, men and women, and these young leaders were very optimistic about the future of their country. And, first and foremost, they make the case that the young generation in Afghanistan has experienced what freedom can bring and they don't want to return to the darkness of the past.
And I think this might, eventually, be the strongest force of all, because freedom is the strongest force in the world, and it will prevail also in Afghanistan.
About elections, I think a lot of lessons were learned after the last elections, and I feel confident that the Afghan authorities will ensure free, fair, transparent elections this time. Let me stress that the conduct of elections is primarily, or it is solely, I would say, an Afghan responsibility. And to ensure a secure environment is the responsibility of the Afghan Security Forces.
We are there, also in 2014, to assist the Afghan Security Forces, if needed, but primarily security is the responsibility for the Afghan Security Forces.
Oana Lungescu: Kabul News TV.
Q: Thank you, (inaudible...), from Kabul News Afghanistan. If Afghanistan and the U.S. could reach on bilateral security agreement, will it affect the NATO new mission in Afghanistan after 2014?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Bilateral U.S.-Afghan security agreement. Yes, indeed, it's essential to reach an agreement of such a security arrangement. First of all, let me stress that after my conversations with President Karzai, I feel confident that such an agreement will be reached, and a bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Afghanistan will be followed by an agreement between the Afghan government and NATO on a status of forces agreement. That will provide the legal framework for our presence in Afghanistan.
Let me just add to that that I feel confident that we will reach an agreement because the Afghan government is well aware of the fact that without such a security agreement we can't deploy troops and trainers to Afghanistan. So it's a prerequisite for deploying our Resolute Support mission that we reach an agreement on the status of forces.
Oana Lungescu: DPA.
Q: Dieter Eberling from DPA, the German Press Agency. Secretary General, a question about the CONOP and the force protection you will surely have discussed. I understand this will be a much smaller mission and it will be a training mission and it will be probably a training of the trainers mission, but this mission still needs to be protected. Who is going to protect them? Will they have to rely on the Afghan Security Forces only for their protections? Will there be some sort of a joint protection force, multinational protection force? will everybody have to take care of his or her own protection? What is the concept that you have in this limited regional setup?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First of all, let me stress that obviously we will ensure that our trainers are well protected so that they can conduct their activities in a secure environment.
Next, it will, of course, be an integrated part of the Resolute Support mission that we are able to protect our trainers ourselves. Having said that, the overall security will, of course, be secured in a collaboration between Afghan Security Forces, who will be responsible for security all over Afghanistan at that time, in a collaboration between Afghan Security Forces and our own Resolute Support mission.
But of course, we feel a responsibility ourselves to ensure that our trainers are well protected and can exercise their activities in a secure environment.
Finally, all the details will be worked out by our commanders in the field. Ministers didn't discuss such military details in today's meeting. It will be for the commanders in the field to take the detailed decisions on how to best protect our trainers.
Oana Lungescu: One last question in the centre.
Q: (Inaudible...) from the Dutch Television. Are you confident that you will have enough contributions of other countries to build the new mission? And connected to that, will a contribution of the Netherlands be appreciated?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Yes, to both questions. Yes, I would appreciate contributions from all Allies and partners who want to contribute to the Resolute Support training mission. And the Netherlands has already a lot of experience within training activities. So I hope the Netherlands will be in a position to contribute to the Resolute Support mission.
The fact is that all 28 Allies agree that the Resolute Support mission should be a NATO-led mission. That decision has been made. It's, as you know, a decision taken by consensus, so all countries, including the Netherlands support a NATO-led training mission. Which hopefully also will be followed by concrete contributions to that mission.
And as regards to the first part of your question, yes, I feel confident that our Resolute Support mission will be fully manned. Let me stress that so far we haven't decided the exact number of the future Resolute Support mission. That decision will be taken at a later stage. We have some planning assumptions and based on that I feel confident that we will get enough contributions to ensure that the Resolute Support mission will be fully manned.
Oana Lungescu: Thank you very much. I'm afraid that's all we have time for.