Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

  • 12 Jun. 2009 -
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  • Last updated: 15 Jun. 2009 18:14

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER (NATO Secretary General): Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Hello again. It was the last ministerial meeting I had the privilege to chair but I can only say it was a substantial one in terms of concrete decisions taken by ministers. I mentioned yesterday to you the discussion on a longer-term NATO role in the fight against piracy and I can tell you that we have agreed to deploy our so-called Standing Naval Maritime Group 2 to take up the baton from the Standing Naval Maritime Group 1 who is now in the area. And that of course will take place in the beginning of July. And that means that NATO will continue to play its role in the fight against piracy.

By the way, in such a Standing Naval Maritime Group, there are six nations represented and it might well be, according to what some ministers indicated, that other nations might be ready and willing to join at a certain stage. So I think that is a piece of good news, but also in my opinion, necessary because I could hardly have imagined that NATO would have given up on its contribution in the fight against piracy.

A few moments ago, we concluded the ISAF meeting on Afghanistan. That’s, as you know, the big tent, the NATO Allies and the non-NATO troop contributing nations. And here too, I’m encouraged by the concrete and substantial decisions taken.

First, we have confirmed that we now have generated the forces we need to support the elections. You know this is a key year for Afghanistan because of the elections on the 20th of August and a possible second round that’s up to the Afghans to decide after Ramadan.

Eight battalions with what we call enablers; between 8,000 to 10,000 troops overall are being deployed in the country to do what we promised to do and that is from transporting election materials to protect election observers. We’ll do that of course in a position of a third ring, if I may use that expression, because here you have of course the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army playing an important role, but we’ll be there to protect election observers in what is called third-line security.

We’ll do that, of course, in the impartial manner, impartial manner, I should say, the Afghans quite rightly expect from us.

Secondly, on Afghanistan, we’ve agreed on the implementation of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan within ISAF. You know this was a tasking, an instruction, in other words, given to us by the NATO heads of state and government during their summit in Strasbourg and Kehl in the beginning of April and that decision has now been formalized and is going to be executed and implemented.

In essence, the new NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan will oversee higher level training for the Afghan National Army and training and mentoring for the Afghan National Police. And I add because that is something we are already doing very successfully in Iraq in the NATO training mission there, it will also include gendarmerie training for the Afghan National Police.

And the existing equipment donation programme for the army, that’s the third element of this decision, will be expanded to include equipment support for the Afghan National Police. This all under the new NATO training command. And you know that the General who will command this all will be double hatted. He will also go on as he is doing at the moment to wear his U.S. hat. That’s indeed, that’s again, I should say, a construct on the basis of which we have very good experiences in our NATO training mission in Iraq. So you’ll see a double-hatted leadership here.

I should be clear in telling you this, this of course should and will all be done according to Afghan priorities to help the Afghans stand more quickly on their own feet. That’s a shared goal forcefully underlined by Minister Wardak in the meeting, General Wardak, the Afghan Defence Minister. It is basically the shared goal. I think the Afghan government and the NATO Allies and our partners very much agree.

Point number three, we have agreed in principle to create a new headquarters, military headquarters within ISAF at the level of a three-star general to oversee day-to-day operations. The logic is clear, I think – that’s at least, what ministers think, which is even more important than what I think – because the mission in Afghanistan has now grown to over 60,000 forces and it will keep growing. The training mission is also growing with NTM-A, as I mentioned a moment ago, and there’s an ever greater requirement for coordination between ISAF, our Afghan friends and colleagues and the rest of the international community in Afghanistan.

And COMISAF cannot do this all. And that is the reason why this new three-star headquarters will be created to manage operations. For your clarity, this three-star general will wear one hat. He will wear an ISAF hat. And the headquarters he’s bringing with him will be an ISAF multinational headquarters, NATO multinational headquarters.

So I think that structure will give us the opportunity, will give the military the opportunity to more efficiently lead and command ISAF. By the way, the new appointed Commander ISAF General McChrystal was in our midst in the meeting today. He’ll travel to theatre, to Afghanistan very soon because as you know, he was confirmed by the Senate yesterday.

Our fourth decision on our most important operational theatre, Afghanistan, we have agreed to deploy AWACS, as you know, essentially radar planes to support our ISAF mission. They will essentially provide air traffic control.

As I can tell you from experience, the skies of Afghanistan are increasingly full of aircraft – civilian and military drones, UAVs – and there is not in Afghanistan the network of ground base radars we have here in the west to steer them around.

So the AWACS planes will do that from the air and we imagine at the moment that to cover the need, three to four aircraft will be needed. So that’s a fourth and I think important decision to facilitate the control of our mission in Afghanistan.

What ministers also did was assessing the progress made in fighting narcotics in Afghanistan. Since the decision was taken to go after the drug industry, you’ll remember that was in Budapest during a ministerial meeting, the one before Krakow in Poland. We’ve had I think success. Forty-three drug labs were destroyed, 34 tonnes of opium, 7 tonnes of hashish and 58 tonnes of precursor chemicals were seized. And we captured a number of drug runners. All of this means, I mean, I’m not saying that in doing this we solved the narcotics problem. That is of course not the case, but it does anyway mean that the Taleban do not have millions of dollars they would now be using had we not gone after the laboratories and had we not gone after the precursors.

We also discussed together another important subject I already mentioned yesterday and I remember that we had an exchange with my Afghan colleague, your Afghan colleague, and that is the importance of minimizing civilian casualties. And I want to stress that again, I repeat that again because it was mentioned by many ministers around the table.

Let me say through you then to the Afghan people that we understand your frustration, your grief and the sorrow when innocent civilians are killed by our forces, by our operations. And as we know, that happens.

And as I said yesterday, we and I apologize for these mistakes and we are doing everything possible to reduce them. So that was an important point made by ministers.

The other side of that medal, of course, is and I think there we also will very much agree, I mean, the Afghan people and us and we, that we are trying to improve their lives, improve the situation in the country and that in that endeavour, almost a thousand of our soldiers have died. And that it is the enemies of Afghanistan who intentionally kill innocent civilians and are responsible for 80 per cent of the innocent civilian life which is taken in Afghanistan.

So this is the message we discussed. It is a message to ourselves to be very prudent, to be very careful. You can never be too careful here. But also, at the same time, pay attention to the lives lost in this endeavour by the ISAF forces.

And you know that this morning, we had I think what was a moving ceremony in unveiling the monument for the fallen, an excellent initiative, may I repeat that here again, by the Danish Defence Minister, Soren Gade.

Finally, one word on transformation, which we discussed in a session at 28 this morning. We agreed on a structure for the NATO Response Force that I think makes sense. A corps of about 10,000 CORA of about 10,000 ready to go, a command and control structure in place and additional forces on call to ramp up when we need to.

I think it’s an arrangement which will keep the NRF sustainable and available and we were really in need of such a decision because the future of the NRF, in my opinion, was in the balance for too long, quite honestly.

We also discussed this morning headquarters reform. I stand in front of you with mixed feelings. You’ll say, well, headquarters reform, yes, for a Secretary General and for the functioning of this Alliance, headquarters reform is important. Until the end of my mandate, at the end of July, I’ll do everything I can to see that we have results. But as I said, it is a mixed feeling with which I stand in front of you because there are still some hurdles to cross and not all Allies unfortunately see the absolute need and necessity for headquarters reform.

And my ambition, of course, is to leave to my successor, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, a more flexible and more efficient organization.

In conclusion, personal words. This, as I said, will be my last ministerial press conference as NATO Secretary General. I would simply like to say thank you to you all for your cooperation and your professionalism. Brussels is known to have a very professional and experienced press corps. That’s you. And I can testify after five and a half years that’s true. It has been a pleasure working with you. And having said that, I’m ready to take your questions.

MODERATOR: The first question is there

Q: Mr. Secretary, my name is Zarghona Mangal, from the Afghan Service Radio Liberty in Prague. You’re speaking now to the Afghan people. Are you personally satisfied with your efforts in Afghanistan? What’s your legacy there? What’s your vision for the future of Afghanistan?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Well, I usually prefer that others speak about my legacy, but let me take your challenge. When I came in January 2004, we had less than 6,000 troops in Afghanistan and that was, as you remember, just in and around Kabul. I'm leaving with over 60,000 all over Afghanistan, a huge military effort. I do think that if I look to these five and a half years, we have certainly seen successes in Afghanistan. There are a large part of the country who are relatively, and I underline the word relatively secure and stable.

There are also still huge challenges. I don’t deny them. It’s a herculean task for the Afghans themselves in the first place. We are trying as NATO to create a climate of security and stability and I do think that we have seen progress. And I tell you what I’ve told many of your colleagues before. We should in this time of four hour news cycles, of which you know much more than I do, news cycles lasting four hours, and in the age of the Internet, we should perhaps redefine the notion of the word Patience, which I write with a capital “P” How can a nation which was in the middle ages in 2001 when the horrible Taleban regime was chased out, who can expect that between 2001, the middle ages, and 2009, you can get things right in Afghanistan?

You can’t. But we’re doing our best. We’re doing our utmost and I look back to my five and a half years and to Afghanistan, which is a bit in my veins and in my blood, as you can imagine, and I’ll go there soon again for my farewell visit. I think that we have seen successes but I'm not in front of you by saying that everything goes well. No, that’s not the case. That’s not the case. And with the increase of the forces by the Americans mainly and other Allies as well, we see an intensification of the contacts with the enemies of Afghanistan so we’ll see an intensified and an intensifying fighting season. We’ll see more casualties. We’ll see more casualties on all sides.

But my legacy, as I would like to see it, is that this is worth the price. It is worth the high price your nations, your people are paying and our soldiers are paying for being there because we cannot afford, Madam, to lose and we should, and that is perhaps where we should or could have done better and where I’ll stay proactive also after I step down, perhaps the message, the essential message we have to explain perhaps even more to the audiences here in Belgium and The Netherlands in our part of the world and in your part of the world is that losing in Afghanistan and losing, I mean, not only losing in the military sense but also in the reconstruction and development sense, means that the guys who want to destroy your society are also going to destroy our society.

And the fight against terrorism and the fact that we are fighting on one of the frontlines in our fight against terrorism is something which in our part of the world from time to time is underestimated. And perhaps that is because we have not been clear enough in transferring that message. It is easier for a government minister and easier for me to tell my audience we are there to develop and help the reconstruction of Afghanistan. It becomes more difficult if you take the other side of the medal, which is as important, we are fighting terrorism there. We are fighting extremism and terrorism, which is of direct impact if we do not do that adequately for our own societies in Canada, in Belgium, in The Netherlands, in the U.K. and where else? That’s my message.

I’m sorry for a bit of a long answer, but it’s a rather fundamental question and it is part of the way as I see my legacy but you’ll all write about my legacy and I'm not intending to do that myself.

MODERATOR: The next one, sorry.

Q: I'm Bari Hakim, from German Radio Deutsche Welle. I work for Pashto and Dari Services. That means we are broadcasting in Pashto and Dari and not in German. My question is about Afghan Police Forces. You announced today a very important mission that NATO will train Afghan police. In the past, some other country like Germany, now European Union, also had these missions. How is the coordination, because a big problem among the past between NATO and also European Union was coordination, there was much problem. How would you in the future coordinate these important missions?

As you said today also, often the civilians, civilians of Afghan police were the second victims of the terrorist acts in Afghanistan.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I do not think that we have seen problems. We have seen many problems of coordination in Afghanistan, the main one between the military and the civilian and we are still not doing ideally there. But I have not on my watch experienced many coordination problems between the European Union and NATO because the EUPOL mission is a completely different one from the mission we are now setting up in the framework of NTM-A, of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan. Both are training police but in a very different construct.

So I do not see quite honestly any tension or coordination problems between EUPOL and what the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan is going to do. What the plus of this mission is, is that we’ll see more coherence in the way we do what we are doing because as you know, many individual Allies are also training police. Canada has been I think rather successful in Kandahar in training police. Germany has trained a lot of police. The U.S. of course, huge investment. Many other Allies as well.

I think by bringing now also police training in the framework of this NTM-A in coordination with and in combination with what is called in our horrible jargon CSTC-Alpha, which is basically the U.S. training command in Afghanistan, is going to increase efficiency and is going to decrease possible coordination problems. But I have never seen them between the European Union and NATO, quite honestly.

MODERATOR: Next is there.

Q: Chris Dixon, Agence Europe. Secretary General, as I understand the figures, there’s a general acceptance now that the budget for the army and the police in Afghanistan for the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police is well beyond the means of Afghanistan’s own treasury. The trust fund that was set up to help remedy this has two obstacles, as I see it.

One is obviously there’s not enough money in it. And the other is there are strong restrictions on what that money can be used for and it can’t be used namely for maintaining these troops. Can you explain to me, to us what has been done to remedy those two problems?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I share your analysis that as far as the expanded trust fund is concerned, we’re far from there yet. I can give you the figures as I have them in front of me. There is, as far as the trust funds are concerned, 24 million Euros already donated for ANA equipment and training and 221 million Euros pledged for ANA sustainment.

I take your point that we need more, that we need much more. But I'm not a magician. And I cannot indeed realize the admittedly huge sustainment costs in the weeks, months I perhaps should say we now have the expanded trust fund. So one of my pleas was and is to nations and partners alike, and perhaps even partners who are not in Afghanistan, is to donate to the fund because we are not there yet. I take that point.

That’s a more serious issue, by the way, than the caveat you mentioned which is the limitation which is on the fund. But we need much more money to do that because you’re right, the Afghan budget can never, of course, ever find the money for this kind of numbers and this kind of sustainment.

MODERATOR: The next question is there.

Q: Secretary General, (inaudible) from German Television. We have reports such as from General Petraeus that we have a peak of clashes at the moment between NATO soldiers and Taleban. Can you give us an idea of the number and can you give us an idea of the reasons? Why is it happening at the moment?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: I cannot from behind my thing here, I cannot give you and I would not give you let’s say operational details. But I must admit I’ve been chairing the meetings for two days. So I’m not in on the details.

It is true, of course, General Petraeus is right. One of the reasons is – and that’s why I said in answering your Afghan female colleague – one of the reasons is that many more forces and troops are pouring in, so you’ll have many more troops in contact, TICs, as the notion goes, in Afghanistan.

And you see forces going to places where they’ve never been before. And it’s undeniable that also the activities of the enemies of Afghanistan, the Taleban activity is up. So I think that it is a rather safe prediction General Petraeus made and I am making here, supporting him in that respect, agreeing with him in that respect, I should say, that we’ll see a surge in violence and that we see an intensification of combat. That is absolutely true.

That’s my answer.

MODERATOR: One here and then...

Q: (Inaudible) Islas News Agency. Mr. Scheffer, I want to ask today both Azarbaijan and Armenian Defence Ministers were here and yesterday, I wonder if ever you had a bilateral, trilateral discussion about Nagorno-Karabakh issue and any kind of contribute can NATO have on the issue? Did that discussion ever come up? And my second question will be in this big tent meeting, do you have any new developments about Iran, the attendance of Iran to this big tent meeting?

Thank you, sir.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: My answer to your first question is negative because my name is De Hoop Scheffer and my name is not the Minsk Group. You know much better probably than I do, that it is certainly not NATO but the Minsk Group which is looking after already for years the solution of the Nagorno-Karabakh issue.

And you know that NATO supports the Minsk Group principles. And you know what they are. So I’m not going to explain them once again. So the answer is no. And there were no trilateral contacts because NATO should not and has no place to provide the solution or to be proactive in that conflict.

Iran was not discussed. I called it “big tent” because the real big tent was in The Hague, as you know, with the participation of Iran and I understand that you’re making a reference to that meeting. I was and I am of the opinion, by the way, already long before the meeting in The Hague took place that Iran is an important neighbour of Afghanistan and if you talk about regional solutions and regional elements that Iran should be involved. And you know that Minister Franco Frattini, the Italian Foreign Minister, in his G8 presidency capacity, is going to have a meeting with Afghanistan and its neighbours in Trieste before long. I’ll be there to represent NATO, as will be many others.

So the regional approach is very important but this morning in this meeting, this was not discussed.

MODERATOR: Two more here and here.

Q: Martino (inaudible), El Pais. A question dealing with the anti-piracy mission. Yesterday you said that things were not ready and that we had to expect something in the future and that there was plenty of work to do yet. Now, we have a mission there. What has changed from yesterday this time to today and could you give us more details about the new operation? Thank you.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: If I would like to have a very positive headline in El Pais, I would say the Secretary General pulled it off. But that’s of course not the case. No, listen, I’ll be open and frank. I came to you yesterday and when I stood in front of you yesterday, there was still a lot of open ends. But I considered and consider it not acceptable that a political military organization like NATO with its huge inventory would not be able to participate in the fight against these pirates. I simply would not have beared being in front of you here to say sorry, members of the press, but NATO will not participate. And that’s the reason that yesterday lateish afternoon, yesterday night, over dinner, I raised the subject again after some prior consultations because of course I had the pleasure of having all ministers in the house.

And when you then at a certain stage, this is how this system works, you have enough gravitas, you have a number of ministers who say Secretary General, well, this might be a way to go.

Then I can decide, has the moment come to present this to ministers, which I did yesterday night over dinner. And they said yes.

It goes without saying, as I said I think in my introduction, that if you say quite rightly there’s more work to do, there is more work to do. For instance, on the legal framework, but NATO will be there and NATO will continue to participate in the mission and it might well be that the mission will be beefed up, as I said.

So I'm very happy in this regard that the Allies made this decision.

MODERATOR: Last question is here.

Q: Mr. Secretary General, I’m Hasseeba Shaheed, from Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty Afghanistan. I have two questions. My first question is about will the ANP ever be as effective as ANA, in your opinion? And the second question, is there any chance that additional forces will stay after election day in Afghanistan?

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: My answer to your first question would be that I sincerely hope, Madam, that ANP, Afghan National Police, will be... that we will be, we, you, Afghans and I, and us, will be as effective with the Afghan National Police as we are with the ANA, with the Afghan National Army, because the Afghan National Army is I think a relative success story.

But the ANP is lagging behind. A lot behind. And that is why within the limited capability we have, we have now embarked on this NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan where there will be a police element. You know that in the operational plan guiding our presence in Afghanistan, training of the police is not a NATO responsibility. That’s a responsibility for others.

Now we thought that was perhaps a bit too easy to say we have nothing to do with the police, and that’s the reason that this important element is now being brought into the NTM-A. But I take your point and I share your analysis that the police is lagging behind and that Afghanistan needs under the able and competent leadership of Minister Atmar, a police force which can do what a police force normally does.

Your second question was?

MODERATOR: Forces staying on.

JAAP DE HOOP SCHEFFER: Yes, well, I must honestly admit that I do not exactly know. I have the impression that most of the numbers I mentioned will be on a temporary basis because I do not know yet of many nations who have said the forces will stay. My priority was and is to get the boost, the extra forces in during the election period, in the run-up during and after. And what each individual nation will exactly decide I do not know as yet. I would hope, of course, I would hope that Allies would decide to let them stay because we are still not there as far as our forces are concerned.

Many thanks and bye, bye.