by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the meeting on Afghanistan at the level of Heads of State and Government during the NATO Summit held in Newport, Wales
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are gathered here in Wales at a pivotal moment for our security.
We will take important decisions to keep our nations safe. To keep the vital bond between Europe and North America strong. And to help build stability in a dangerous world.
As we meet, around 55,000 men and women are deployed on NATO-led operations around the world. Shoulder to shoulder with those from many partner nations. From Kosovo to the coast of Somalia, and from the Baltic Sea to the Mediterranean.
Most of them are in Afghanistan. Where we have forged the largest coalition in recent history. A quarter of the world’s nations joined forces for a common cause. To deny safe haven to international terrorists. And to make Afghanistan strong enough to take charge of its own security.
Our mission is not over yet. But we are proud of what we have achieved. And of the hundreds of thousands of military and civilian personnel who have served with ISAF over the years with outstanding courage and dedication.
So it is right that we begin our Summit with a tribute to them.
And it is a privilege for us to be joined today by representatives of the armed services of all ISAF nations, as well from the Afghan National Army.
I will now kindly ask you to stand.
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Dear Servicemen and Women,
Each of you represents your brothers and sisters in arms. Those who answered the call to serve.
You put your lives on the line. You fight so that others can be safe. You demonstrate how much more powerful it is to protect than to destroy. So that those who resort to terror and violence will not succeed.
I want to express our deepest gratitude to you and to your families. And our deepest sympathy to those who have faced injury or loss.
We respect your courage.
We value your commitment.
And we honour your service.
NATO is the world’s most powerful Alliance. And it will remain so because of the bravery, skill and determination of you, of our service men and – women, and the valuable partners who stand with us.
Please join me in a moment of silence, to pay tribute to those who have fallen and to those who have been injured in the course of their duties.
Ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, let me extend my heartfelt thanks to the people of Wales. For their generous hospitality to so many delegations from NATO and partner countries and other international organisations. Today, the world has truly come to Wales.
We know it has taken a lot of dedication and hard work. So I would also like to thank those who have helped to organise this Summit. And indeed the whole of the United Kingdom.
And I offer a particular word of gratitude to Prime Minister David Cameron for hosting this Summit. For his strong leadership. And for his staunch commitment to our Transatlantic Alliance. Prime Minister, David, on behalf of all of us here, thank you very much.
Our first meeting will focus on Afghanistan. For over a decade, NATO Allies and partner nations from across the world have stood shoulder to shoulder in our most challenging combat mission. This has been an unprecedented international effort.
We have done what we pledged to do. We have dealt a blow against international terrorism in Afghanistan and we have built up capable Afghan forces of 350,000 troops and police.
For over a year, these forces have been in the lead for security across the country. And by the end of this year, Afghan security will be fully in their hands.
Afghans now have a historic opportunity to develop their own country and decide their own future. Afghanistan has already made significant advances. In the economy and communications. Education and health. Human rights and fundamental freedoms, notably for women and girls.
And though our combat mission will soon be completed, Afghanistan still needs international support. And NATO stands ready to play its part.
We are prepared to begin a new mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces. And once the necessary security agreements are in place, we will launch it.
We will also continue to help fund the Afghan Security Forces. And over the course of the coming months we will build upon our Enduring Partnership with Afghanistan.
Because we want to ensure that we retain the gains we have made. And open a new chapter in our relationship with Afghanistan.
As we look to the future, we also want to continue to work with the partners that we have relied on in this challenging mission. Our forces are stronger and more closely connected than ever before.
We will continue these efforts, including through partnership initiatives that will be launched here in Wales.
We are stronger together. We have proven that in Afghanistan. And we thank our partners for their vital contributions.
I now invite Prime Minister David Cameron to make his welcoming remarks.