by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Heads of State and Government in Resolute Support format
We have just finished a productive meeting with all nations contributing to our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan.
Together with President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah we discussed the security situation, the Afghan Government’s reforms and our continued partnership.
Afghanistan is making progress. And that progress must continue. Especially when it comes to respect for human rights, anti-corruption and electoral reforms. Working towards reconciliation should also be a priority. The Afghan security forces are now responsible for security across the whole country. They are defending the Afghan people with dedication and courage. We continue to train, advise and assist them. But Afghanistan still faces serious instability and violence. So our continued political, military and financial engagement is of great importance.
That is why we took three decisions today:
First, we agreed to sustain our Resolute Support Mission beyond 2016. Through a flexible, regional model. And I thanked President Obama for his significant decision on troop levels. I also commended the other framework nations Germany, Italy and Turkey - and all other Allies and partners that contribute to the mission - for their strong commitment to our mission. Additional planning will be conducted in the coming months to define our overall presence in 2017.
Second, we reviewed firm national commitments to continue funding for the Afghan security forces through 2020.
And third, we reaffirmed our support for a long-term political partnership and practical cooperation with Afghanistan.
So our message is clear: Afghanistan does not stand alone. And we are committed for the long haul.
With that, I am ready to take your questions.
MODERATOR: We’ll go One TV in the front row there. Please wait for the microphone.
Q: Thank you very much. This is Abdullah of the One TV Kabul Afghanistan. My question Secretary General considering the ongoing threats in Afghanistan is there any possibility that NATO (inaudible) West to its operation and take part in attacks and raids against Taliban as there is a changes in the nation of United States for example giving their support to the Afghan armies or not?
JENS STOLTENBERG (NATO Secretary General): The Resolute Support Mission is a non-combat mission and what we do is to train, assist and advise the Afghan forces. And I think it is extremely important to understand that we ended our combat mission at the end of 2014 because we over several years had built up a national Afghan army and security forces able to take full responsibility of security in their own country. So the Resolute Support Mission is going to continue as a non-combat, train, assist and advise mission. But then United States they have a CT - counter terror - presence in addition to the Resolute Support Mission and they continue to work with the Afghan forces also in operations directed directly against different terrorist groups, but that is for the U.S. to answer in more detail about those activities.
MODERATOR: Radio Free Europe.
Q: Thank you Mr. Secretary General. I have two questions. First you know that President Obama has already said that security situation in Afghanistan is still precarious and that the Taliban are still a threat. You are well aware of the fact that some ISIL affiliated groups are operational in some pockets of Eastern Afghanistan. Do you have fears for instability in the country? Second question is that what are your specific demands from President Ghani and CEO Abdullah in return for all the support and pledges that you’re making during the summit? Thank you very much.
JENS STOLTENBERG: The situation in Afghanistan is not easy. It’s a difficult situation and of course we see violence, we see terrorist attacks, we see turmoil and we don’t expect this to become easy very soon. So, it’s going to continue to be a challenging situation in Afghanistan. That’s exactly why we have decided to continue to support Afghans because they continue to need our support and that’s also the reason why we welcome the progress we see that the Afghan army and security forces are making. They are becoming more and more capable and they are developing new capabilities; for instance air force and when I visited Afghanistan some months ago I visited also Afghan soldiers - men and women -who were trained as pilots and I saw how Afghanistan is developing a new capability - Afghan Air Forces. So, there is no reason to believe that all the problems in Afghanistan will be solved in the near future but that’s exactly why we will continue to support them both with our military presence, the Resolute Support Mission and with continued funding for the Afghans.
MODERATOR: Wall Street Journal.
Q: I wonder if you could talk a little bit more about the funding NATO hoped to get $1 billion in pledges from non-U.S. allies and partners for Afghanistan. How close are you to that number in pledges? And just to follow up on the last question, do you assess that there is a real Islamic State threat in Afghanistan or is it not as great as the Taliban threat?
JENS STOLTENBERG: One of the great achievements of this meeting is that we now have in place the $1 billion non-U.S. commitments, or almost in place all the commitments we need. So we are very close and I’m certain that we will reach that level to be able to maintain the same level of funding for the Afghan forces as we have up til today, also to 2020. Second we have seen reports and we have seen some presence of ISIL but we have also seen that local Taliban groups rebrand themselves and pledge loyalty to ISIL. I think what matters is not exactly what the different groups are called but that we continue to strengthen the Afghans and enable them to fight different terrorist groups and strengthen their capabilities to stabilize their own country. And we have seen some quite effective actions in that regard over the recent months where Afghan forces, also together with U.S. forces, have been very effective in attacking different terrorist groups; Al-Qaeda and others in Afghanistan.
MODERATOR: Polish Press Agency.
Q: Mr. Secretary what sort of commitments has the Afghan side taken in return of NATO commitments?
JENS STOLTENBERG: The Afghan government strongly expressed a commitment to continue to implement reforms to work for respecting human rights, including rights of women, and to fight corruption. And that was also a strong message from across the board in the meeting today that NATO and NATO partners will continue to support Afghanistan but we expect that they will step up their efforts to fight corruption and to implement reforms. So, there is a close connection between our support and our expectations that they will increase their efforts to modernize their own society.
MODERATOR: Could we get to the front row please to Ariana TV.
Q: Thank you Mr. Secretary General. Afghanistan has always been talking about the lack of Air Forces facilities. Does NATO have any specific plan to equip the Afghani Air Forces so it can handle the raids by its own?
JENS STOLTENBERG: One of the activities of the NATO presence - the Resolute Support in Afghanistan is that we are helping the Afghans with developing their own Air Forces and when I visited Afghanistan some months ago I met with soldiers which were trained - who were trained to become pilots at the Kabul International Airport and I was impressed by their dedication, by their commitment, and Afghanistan is now in the process of developing their own Air Force capabilities and this of great importance and that just underlines the importance of the NATO presence there. And as I said I met both men and women who were strongly committed and were trained as pilots and all the skills related to Air Force - the Afghan Air Force.
MODERATOR: Swedish TV in the second row.
Q: Thank you, Rolf Erikson Swedish TV. Secretary General, was the question of safety and security of medical workers and aid workers raised and what did you comment in the context of last year’s attack of a Hospital of Medecins Sans Frontieres but also other incidents? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: That was a profound tragedy and I think it’s very important that it has been assessed very thoroughly and we have reports and it has been something which has been addressed both in NATO but also in the United States. The protection of civilians and health workers is very high on our agenda. It is of great importance and one of the issues which we are addressing in our cooperation with the Afghan forces through our Resolute Support presence is exactly how to protect civilians, how to protect health workers and how to avoid civilian casualties. So, that is an issue we have for instance been discussing with the U.N. and the U.N. was present in the meeting today and we recently also met with the International Red Cross and that has also been high on the agenda in our cooperation with the Red Cross. So we will continue to do our utmost to avoid any civilian casualties and also to help and enhance the awareness of the Afghan forces to avoid any civilian casualties.
Q: Secretary General the commitment here is into 2017 for Resolute Support but you speak about it being committed for the long haul. Realistically how long is Resolute Support going to have to continue?
JENS STOLTENBERG: There is no reason to speculate exactly on how long it will continue. I think what we have seen is that we are committed and we are ready to stay and that’s the reason why we have decided to stay beyond 2016 and then we have to assess the situation next year and decide what to do with our military presence. But you have to also remember that in addition to the military presence with our own troops in the Resolute Support Mission we have already decided to continue the funding through 2020 and currently the cost is around $5 billion U.S. dollars per year to sustain the Afghan National Army and police and at this Summit allies committed to fund the Afghan forces through 2020 at or near the current levels of $5 billion. So we have really a strong commitment from the United States and from non-U.S. allies and partners to continue to fund the Afghan Army through 2020.
MODERATOR: Lady over there.
Q: Thank you, I’m with Reuters. Can you clarify what troop levels the non-U.S. NATO allies will be committed to for this next year? Is it going to be around the same, around 3000 or will it be slightly less? And then, President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah you met with them, what are your concerns about the paralysis within the Afghan government and the lack of unity and some of the problems they’ve been having politically? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: It’s too early to provide exact numbers on the troop levels but based on what has been decided, oh no sorry - based on what has been committed in this meeting today we can say that the troop levels will be around the same in 2015, sorry in 2017 as it is in 2016 and that is around 12,000 troops. So, the exact the numbers will be something we decide later on. We will make decisions on that in the fall and and there will be a substantial U.S. presence and a substantial non-U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Exact numbers will be available later, but we will maintain approximately the same total force level in 2017.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Well I met with President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah and I also visited Kabul recently and we continue our very strong partnership and they underlined very strongly their commitment to modernize, to implement reforms and to fight corruption. This is not an easy task and Afghanistan still have many unsolved problems. But they are moving in the right direction and I think it also important to remain. The reason why NATO is in Afghanistan is to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for international terrorists. And we have achieved that, despite the fact that there are ... there is still turmoil, violence and many many remaining problems in Afghanistan.
MODERATOR: Last question to RIA Novosti over there, third row.
Q: Thank you very much (inaudible) from Russian News Agency RIA Novosti. Secretary General could you please tell us what are the main results of yesterday evening’s discussion on Russia? And are you in agreement with President Hollande that Russia is not a threat and not an adversary? Thank you.
JENS STOLTENBERG: We don’t see any imminent threat against any NATO ally. Russia is neither the strategic partner we tried to, or we are not in a strategic partnership with Russia which we tried to develop after the end of the Cold War but we are neither in a Cold War situation. We are in a new situation which is different from anything we have experienced before. The dinner yesterday was an informal dinner where leaders were able to discuss in a very frank and open way and the main message from that dinner is that the Alliance is united, that we stand together in our approach based on defence, strong defence and constructive dialogue. And I’m very pleased to see how strong that message is in NATO and how united we are behind that message. So this was an informal dinner but it was a united message from the dinner that defence and dialogue is what our relationship is based on.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much. This is all we have time for now. But we will see you again after the next session.
JENS STOLTENBERG: Thank you so much.