by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council with Resolute Support Operational Partner Nations and Potential Operational Partner Nations
We have just finished the Ministerial meeting of the Resolute Support partners and Allies.
And this was also the first meeting of the new Acting Minister of Defence from Afghanistan – Minister Stanekzai.
And it was a very good meeting.
And we took stock of the progress we have made since the launch of Resolute Support at the beginning of this year.
We discussed the evolution of the mission.
And we looked at how we will continue to support the Afghan National Security Forces. How we will do that also in the longer term.
It is now six months since the Afghan forces took full responsibility for security in Afghanistan.
And it has been a challenging time. There have been attacks in Kabul and fighting across the country.
However, the Afghan forces have dealt with this effectively.
Afghan forces have shown exemplary courage, determination and commitment in these very challenging environments.
At the same time, the Afghan government has set out an ambitious reform programme. We encourage the Government to continue to implement these reforms.
They are determined to bring peace to their country. And we strongly support the Afghan Government in their efforts.
NATO and our partners stand with Afghanistan.
Our forces continue to provide training, advice and assistance. And we are beginning to plan for the next stage of our Resolute Support mission.
To look at what we need to do, and how will best to do it. This will continue in the coming months and we will make further decisions later in this year.
At our meeting of Foreign Ministers in May, we recognized the need to support Afghanistan’s security institutions after the end of the current mission, through our enhanced Enduring Partnership.
Today, we have confirmed our commitment to a civilian-led presence in Afghanistan after the Resolute Support to further develop Afghan security institutions.
This is a time of changes and challenges, both for Afghanistan and for NATO.
But together, we will rise to the challenges and we will stand together.
With that, I am ready to take your questions.
Moderator [Oana Lungescu NATO Spokesperson]: We'll go to our Afghan colleagues first over there. Second row, please.
Q: Thank you very much Mr. Secretary. The timeline for the duration of Resolute Support is still unclear. Did you make any decision on this meeting? Secondly, the Afghan Permanent Ambassador to the United Nations says that around 7,000 foreign fighters are in Afghanistan, that they are fighting with Afghan Security Forces. How concerning it would be for the Afghan security and also for the NATO mission in the future?
Jens Stoltenberg (Secretary General, NATO): The question on the duration of the Resolute Support mission is a very important question. No final decision has been made. We are going to address and assess the situation after the end of the fighting season this year, and then of course we will also be able to have more information, more understanding, both of the challenges but also about the capability, the capacity of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces.
So no final decision has been made but we have started to develop plans, so when we are making the decisions then we will be able to implement them. This is a question of when we move from both phase one to phase two of the Resolute Support mission, how long we will keep the different regional bases or the spokes in place, and of course how long will the Resolute Support mission last in itself.
As I said, no final decision has been made but what we have decided is that when we end the Resolute Mission then we will move into a new kind of cooperation, what we call the Enduring Partnership. This is going to be a partnership where we have a civilian-led mission in Afghanistan, civilian-led presence, but there's going to be a military component of this Enduring Partnership presence, and of course we will continue to address the very important issue of continuing financial support for the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces.
So we will continue to work with Afghanistan but the details in the different phases of the Resolute Support and when we move from Resolute Support to Enduring Partnership is not yet decided.
The second question was about these figures about foreign fighters. I have not seen that kind of figure, I'm not able to confirm that kind of figure, but it's obvious that we face many challenges in Afghanistan, including the presence of foreign fighters and different groups of insurgents. So this just underlines that we are facing security challenges in Afghanistan which both is the reason for why we have the Resolute Support mission but also why we are so focused on train, advise, assist, help the Afghan become even more capable of defending and protecting their own country.
Moderator: The second question right next, yeah.
Q: Thank you Mr. Secretary General. The Afghan forces are still facing problems with air support. Was there any decision taken to enhance the capabilities of the Afghan Air Force? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: Yes, we addressed the importance of increasing the capability of the Afghan Air Force and I think that's part of the work which is now ongoing and that is to help the Afghan develop their own air force. We recognize that there are many security challenges in Afghanistan. One of the challenges is connected to the close air support, and that's one of the reasons why we are looking into how we can assist, help the Afghan with developing their own air force capabilities.
Moderator: Okay, we'll go to the back there please.
Waseem Ibrahim (As-Safir Newspaper): Yes, my name is Waseem Ibrahim from As-Safir Newspaper. I would like to go back to yesterday's meeting. Secretary General, we heard a lot about the threats coming from the East and we listened today to the Spanish Defence Minister complaining a little bit that you dont have enough planning for the South threats because you said that the Spearhead Force and the NATO Readiness Force is designed to deal with the threats coming from the South and from the East. How these forces are going to deal with the threats coming from the South? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: The NATO Response Force, the enhanced NATO Response Force, and the Spearhead Force which is the centre piece of this force, are forces we can use anywhere in the Alliance depending on the situation, but depending on the challenges, depending on what kind of threats we are facing. So this is not a force which is designed only for being deployed in the East, it's a force which we can deploy anywhere in the Alliance to protect all Allies against several different kinds of threats. I think we also have to have a flexible approach. It is not necessary that we always have to deploy all the 40,000 troops in the NATO Response Force. Sometimes perhaps what we need is a limited number of special operation forces, sometimes it will be more relevant to have maritime forces, for instance in the Mediterranean, and other times it will be relevant to use the air component of the Spearhead Force.
So I think that we should just have a very flexible approach. It is good for both the North, the East, the South and the West that we have increased the preparedness and readiness of our forces, then we have to be prepared for the unexpected and then use the forces where and when needed.
And just to in a way illustrate how difficult it is to predict exactly when and where, the first time we invoked the Article 5, the collective defence article of the Washington Treaty, the NATO founding treaty, that was a response to an attack in the West, in the United States, 9/11, and the response was far in the East or in the South, Afghanistan. So I think this illustrates that it's hard to speculate, we need high preparedness, high readiness, and then respond to whatever may happen, be it in the East, South, or West, or North.
Moderator: We'll go over to the back.
Q (VG): [Inaudible] from Norwegian newspaper VG. Mr. Secretary, there is a report from a think tank called Centre for European Policy Analysis today that deals with security in the so-called NBP9 countries. It states that it is impossible for NATO to defend the Baltic countries or even Norway without cooperation from Sweden and Finland. Can you comment on this please?
Jens Stoltenberg: NATO as an Alliance is capable and unwavering in its commitment to defend and protect all Allies against any threat, and that is also the case of course for the Baltic countries and for Norway. We are the strongest military alliance in history and we are now implementing the biggest reinforcement of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War by making our forces more ready, more prepared and more able to reinforce when needed. Then, in addition, we work with partners, for instance Sweden and Finland in the North, and also bordering the Baltic Sea.
But that is something which comes in addition, that's a supplement. We're not dependent on that for being able to defend and protect our Allies, but for instance the cooperation we have with Sweden and Finland is important, partly because they take part in our missions for instance in Afghanistan, and partly because when we are working more closely with Sweden and Finland in the Baltic region we exchange information, we do exercises together, so that enhances our ability but it's not something we are dependent on to be able to protect and defend all Allies.
Let me add to that that the protection for instance of Norway, but also the Baltic countries, has always been dependent on that we are in a situation where we see that tensions are increasing, where we see that challenges are increasing, then we are able to reinforce, and that's exactly what we have increased, our ability to reinforce Norway and the Baltic countries if needed.
Moderator: Over there.
Q: Thank you Mr. Secretary. This is Asadullah Ludin . My question is about your upcoming mission in Afghanistan beyond the Resolute Support mission. You mentioned that there will be military presence, the question is that will you conduct operations against foreign fighters and internal fighters of Afghanistan, I mean opposition fighters, and also if you provide information about Afghanistan and equip, Afghan National Security Forces equipment, will you provide them with equipment that are used in Afghanistan? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: I'd like to underline that the main purpose of the Resolute Support mission and also the purpose of the Enduring Partnership, the civilian-led but with a military component, Enduring Partnership that we're going to establish after the Resolute Support mission, is to help the Afghans defend themselves. The Resolute Support mission and the Enduring Partnership, they're not combat missions, so the whole idea is that we will be there to help, assist, advise, and train the Afghans to increase their capability of defending themselves.
We do so because at some stage we have to end this big, large military operation, ISAF, because in the long run I think no country can be dependent on a high number of foreign forces the way Afghanistan was to protect themselves. So we will not decide exactly what the Afghan forces are going to do, we will help them. Actually a year ago they, actually they have already taken over the full responsibility of security in their own country but we will continue to assist them.
So that's in a way the answer related to what exactly the forces are going to do, that's not up to us to decide, that's for the Afghans to decide. They're taking responsibility, they are capable, they are professional, but we will continue to help them through the Resolute Support mission and then in another format in the Enduring Partnership.
The last question, oh, equipment. Equipment, well, NATO doesnt possess equipment so NATO as an organization will not make decisions on whether to leave equipment in Afghanistan when we reduce our military presence. But nations posses equipment, and the different nations which are both NATO Allies but also partners, we have seen over the years that when they for instance reduced the military presence related to the ISAF mission they decided to take some of the equipment back home but also decided to leave some equipment, and I expect nations to have the same approach also in the future.
Moderator: Okay, we'll go over here, third row.
Pavel Tarasenko (Kommersant Daily): Pavel Tarasenko, Kommersant Daily, Russia. Two questions. On Afghanistan, yesterday Vladimir Putin said that according to his information Islamic State group acts and is present in 25 out of 34 Afghan provinces, so could you comment somehow on this information, what is the data of NATO? And second question, nowadays if we talk about cooperation on Afghanistan, fight with extremism, do you see any possibilities of cooperation or maybe interaction between NATO and Russia? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: As I stated, I think yesterday, it was that what we decided last spring was to suspend the practical cooperation with Russia but to keep the channels for political contact open and also to keep the military-to-military lines of communication open. When it comes to the question of ISIL I would like to underline that we see many different groups of insurgents in Afghanistan and we also see that they are fighting each other, and we also see to some extent some kind of rebranding, one group just take on some kind of loyalty to a new kind of terrorist organization. Also some of them rebrand themselves as ISIL.
The important thing is that regardless of what kind of brand or name the terrorist organization has, we will continue to support Afghanistan in fighting terror, and we were updated today by Defence Minister Stanekzai about the recent attack on the parliament in Kabul and also this one single army sergeant that was able to deal with all the attackers one by one, and I think the bravery and the courage this sergeant showed in defending and stopping the attack on the parliament tells us something about the bravery and the courage and the commitment of the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces, and their professionalism. So I have great trust in the Afghan National Security Forces.
Moderator: Question over there from Ukrainian TV.
Q: Thank you. Secretary General, I think I've got two questions. The first of them is we've got our defence minister coming here and they announced that they had produced a plan for their action for the next five years, until 2020. The first question is do you see a Membership Action Plan, the MAP, or is it, have you discussed with them the possibility of coming back to that idea that was killed by Mr. Yanukovych five years ago or even earlier? So is there talk about the Membership Action Plan with Ukraine now?
And the second question is on the reforms. You seem to be satisfied with the,with what the Ukrainian government officials said, but for Ukrainians we have a long history of talk of reforms, and by now I think you know far better than me that the core of Ukrainian army, the core of Ukrainian resistance sometimes lies in the volunteers, in the society, which backs the armed forces, which brings in, many of the soldiers wouldnt even have night vision goggles if they would not be brought in by the volunteers. Sometimes those volunteers have to smuggle them into the country to get them almost illegally to the soldiers because the Ukrainian regulations wouldnt allow many things, and this is a vast problem.
Sorry for that long introduction but the question is what makes you believe that this time Ukrainian government officials are serious in their commitment to do something and what makes you believe, what makes you really optimistic on that? Thank you.
Jens Stoltenberg: NATO is very often the answer to many problems, but NATO is not always the only answer to all the problems, meaning that we cannot solve all the problems for Ukraine, but what we can do is that we can help, we can assist, we can provide political support, practical support, but at the end it has to be the Ukrainians themselves that solve their own problems. What we are doing is that we are addressing some of the challenges you pointed at. For instance the problem of corruption, and of course the existence of corruption is serious in any society, but of course in a country which is under attack it's even more serious.
That's the reason why when we are in dialogue with Ukraine we are expressing that we understand that it's very challenging for Ukraine to do military operations in the southeastern part of the country and at the same time focus on long-term institutional reforms, but we very much believe that it is the right thing to do, to both focus on the short-term military operations in the East and at the same time work on the long-term difficult institutional reform process where NATO is playing a key role.
To fight corruption will increase the resilience of Ukraine, it will of course increase the effectiveness of the whole public sector and the army included in that, and that's the reason why one of the areas where we are working together with Ukraine is in what we call the programme for integrity which is exactly working at or aiming at fighting corruption, and it will for instance then make it more easy to make necessary equipment available for the soldiers.
When it comes to night vision goggles, that's just one example of also equipment which several NATO Allies are providing, and during the meeting we had earlier today the UK and other Allies announced that they will continue and also step up the support also with equipment, non-lethal equipment, to the Ukrainian army. So this is a short-, as I say, and long-term approach. In the short term we have to just do what we can to help Ukraine but at the same time we have to have the long-term perspective and understand the importance of reform, building institutions, and fighting corruption.
The focus in Ukraine now is on the reforms, it's to as I say put Ukraine in a position where Ukraine is able to apply and I've just in a way acknowledged or taken note of what Ukrainians have stated, is that they will not apply before they have evolved further on the path of reform. And then of course when Ukraine feels that they are ready to apply then we will assess an application from Ukraine in the same way as we will assess any other application.
Moderator: Thank you very much. This concludes this press conference, and please stay in your places because I think there are further press conferences to come, but thank you very much for now.