Weekly press briefing

by NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai

  • 19 Sep. 2007 -
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  • Last updated: 28 Aug. 2008 11:17

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Colleagues, thank you... and friends, thank you for coming. I have three issues to start with and then I will happily take your questions.


APPATHURAI: You like making an entrance actually. You're always the last one. I think you just wait outside.


APPATHURAI: First thing. In February of 2007...

UNIDENTIFIED: (Inaudible)...

APPATHURAI: Yeah, you're not the last one. In February 2007 the Serbian government, through Ambassador Milinkovic requested to NATO to provide data to them on the cluster munitions that were dropped on Serbia during the 1999 air campaign.

We expect that next week NATO will be in a position to hand over a consolidated list of the cluster munitions dropped at that time. This list will include the number of units and their coordinates. This data is intended for use by those who will carry out a survey of munitions in Serbia. This will be led by a Norwegian NGO my understanding, and as well by the Serbian government. The Serbian government is, of course, fully aware of this and we expect, as I say, that this data will be handed over to them by, we hope and expect, by next week.

Second issue, to bring up to date those of you who have not seen the latest information, that a new operation has been launched by Afghan and ISAF forces to clear Taliban from the area surrounding Gereshk in Helmand province. There are about 2,500 soldiers involved in this operation, which began earlier today. The operations mission is to identify Taliban forces to drive them out of their traditional strongholds in the Upper Gereshk Valley.  Earlier phases of this mission concentrated on a number of locations across Helmand province. The objective, of course, is to create a secure environment in Helmand to support the provincial government in its efforts to bring reconstruction and development to the area.

During the initial stages of the operation ISAF soldiers advanced to secure a bridgehead and built a crossing over the Helmand River. They conducted a river crossing, clearing and searching compounds, moving through Taliban-held areas, before ISAF engineers established a joint forward operating base in the area of Gereshk.

The purpose of this, of course, is very simple. It is to push the Taliban out, to establish the conditions for reconstruction and development, and to bring more peace and security to the people of that area.

Final point I would like to make, and that is to look forward to the Secretary General's visit to New York. He will be going from the 22nd to the 27th of September. This is, of course UN General Assembly week. There are, of course, a number of bilaterals that the Secretary General will hold. These are not yet confirmed. Those of you who have participated in these meetings know that they can be... let's say the schedule is never firm until you walk into the bilateral forum.

So I can't confirm them yet. What I can confirm are a few key meetings. One is that on Sunday morning at 10 o'clock there will be, at UN Headquarters, a high-level meeting on Afghanistan chaired by Secretary General Ban, attended by President Hamid Karzai and the Secretary General as well. I believe there will be other participants. I'm not quite sure who those are, but certainly those three will be in the room, hosted, as I said, by the Secretary General of the United Nations.

There will be, I understand, some kind... for your colleagues in New York, some kind of press stakeout around 13:00. So if you have folks there they might want to come to it.

There will then be, of course, the usual series of bilaterals. And on Thursday there will be a high-level contact group meeting. That is, the contact group at ministerial level and we expect that the Secretary General will also be participating in that.

Is there anything else I want to mention? No, I think that's it. But as I say, the Secretary General will be meeting, from what I can see, an enormous number of foreign ministers and other colleagues. And I will give you more details when it happens.

That, now that I'm done, comes the recorder. I'm done with my opening statements and I'm very happy to take your questions on any issue that might be of interest to you. Pascal (inaudible).

Q: James, could you tell us a little more on this bright... NRF that nine months after it was solemnly proclaimed as fully operational it was discreetly pronounced as not fully operational by SACEUR and Military Committee.

Q: The NATO Response Force was the question. Here's the situation. Indeed, as you know a few years ago, based on a proposal by the United States and endorsed by the allies, the NATO Response Force was established with, at its core, three functions. One, was to be a focus for joint training. Second, to be a focus for transformation, in other words, for modernization of the armed forces of allies. And third, of course, to put at the disposal of the international community. And NATO, in particular, a high-readiness, highly-capable force that did not previously exist.

Initial operating capability was declared when the force was at an earlier stage of development and it has been... elements of the NATO Response Force have been used twice, once for Hurricane Katrina, once after the earthquake in Pakistan, and of course, it has been exercised in quite significant numbers in Cape Verde, which I attended and was quite impressive.

The NRF requires a very heavy commitment of troops. Twenty-five thousand troops within the NRF, if it were to be fully resourced at all times, 25,000 of course preparing for that six-month rotation, and 25,000 coming off that six-month rotation.

We are in a period of heavy pressure on the forces of western countries, of NATO countries. With 40,000 or so NATO forces in Afghanistan, another 18,000 U.S., again, if you have one you have to count three, so that 60,000 or so western forces in Afghanistan means a 180,000 because you have six-month... sorry, you have 60,000 preparing to go and 60,000 coming off and therefore not useable.

The same applies to the 17,000 or so in Kosovo. I'm simply speaking for NATO. There are also enormous strains outside of the NATO context when it comes to area like Darfur, potentially Chad, Lebanon, etcetera.

All this to say, in a rather long form, we are in a period of great pressure on western forces. As a result there is an examination underway... within NATO, to see how to sustain the NRF in this context and into the future, and so there is discussion for now, only discussion, no decisions, underway within the military side, military house of NATO. It has not yet come to a political decision. In fact, the military itself has not yet reached decision on their preferred way forward, but there is discussion within the military on their preferred way forward.

Once that decision is taken it will go to the political level for discussion as to how to adapt the NRF while preserving, and this is the key point,  preserving its essential model and that is, as a backbone for large, or potentially large military operations, as a focus for military transformation.

And so keeping the essentials of the model in place, but seeing how it can be potentially adapted to ensure its sustainability, in a period where, as I say, there is heavy pressure on NATO and other countries, to provide forces for real world operations, which, of course, have to be the priority.

Is that a long answer?

Q: Sounds like a crisis.


APPATHURAI: (Laughs). That's not how it sounded to me. No, not at all. There is absolutely no crisis. Certainly... let's put things in proportion. The first priority is operations. We are close to, very close to, achieving what we need when it comes to force generation for Afghanistan, but even there it is a challenge, and that is the real world priority for NATO, as well, of course, as Kosovo where we have the forces that we need.

But this is, as I say, a strain. That is no secret to everybody. To generate all the forces that we need for the various operations.

So when we look at the NRF, one model was put in place a few years ago. The situation has changed. NATO did not have 40,000 troops in the field when the NRF model was put in place. Now we do.

So the challenge is how do we sustain the NRF's principles and its essentials in a slightly different international environment. No model goes unchanged. I think that... of anything. The first model is put in place, then you adapt to the realities of the situation in which you find yourself.

But I think, as I say the military has not arrived at any decisions, nor has there been a political discussion, but my belief is that the nations will wish to preserve, as I said, its transformational character, its force generation character and the capability, perhaps not necessarily with the same rapidity to generate a rapid-reaction capability up to a very large size.

How exactly that will be done I think is what's under discussion now.

We'll follow up and then go back to Brooks.

Q: Under the guise of reducing troops contributing to NRF, are there some countries of the Alliance inclining to put in into question the concept of NRF. That is to say, for instance, some countries let's say like Netherlands, the same country as the Secretary General is originating from, wants to have a kind of force, a super reserve force.

The problem is that reserve force is not at the level of strategic reserve force, not even able to act now. So, some other countries are disputing that and saying it's only for, as you know, a concept of intervention in case of emergency. So isn't it in a way a way out of all this discussion for some allies who don't want to admit the fact that NRF was not a reserve force for the start.

APPATHURAI: There are two issues here. One is the NRF model. The principles of the NRF. And my understanding is no one is calling into question those principles, and I've made them very clear to you so I won't say them again.

There is a separate discussion, separate but related, but you're right, but largely separate discussion, which preceeded any adjustments on force side or phasing, which related to the relationship between the NRF and the reserves.

Also relating to, in essence, when do you use the NRF, regardless of what it is, when do you use it? I guess that was a separate discussion which has always been had.

I think the essence is that... the essential point is this: This was a new creation. It was put in place based on an original idea in a particular situation, and now the discussion continues on how it should evolve. And that is totally normal that the discussion should be had as to how it should evolve, because no first model ever goes unchanged. Except, I guess, unless it is the car in India, the Ambassador, that one went unchanged. But most car companies couldn't survive if you didn't adapt the first model that you put in place. And the NRF too, like any car, it's a very good car, but it needs to be modernized.

Q: So it's like the mini car, (inaudible)...

APPATHURAI: (Laughs). Five hundred? The... I don't want to drag this car analogy too far.

We could have an NRF that is not always at 25,000. I think that is certainly one of the issues. That is not always maintained at 25,000, but could be built up to 25,000 if necessary, with the essential framework in place, with a certain number of forces in reserve, or ready to go, and then the capability to generate up quickly the forces that you need, rather than keeping the whole block all the time on call.

Q: What's the minimum number of forces that you need to actually have an NRF?

APPATHURAI: Well, that's the question that the military is chewing over right now. That isn't the... Sorry, let me rephrase it. The military is looking now carefully at what option they consider to be the best way forward. It will have details in it. That decision has not been made. There is no point now in me speculating on it because frankly I don't know what conclusion they'll arrive at.

I think Brooks was next and then we'll come back.

Q: Yeah, I've got three questions. One question, light, too heavy? You say this is placing a strain on the allies. There are what, two million armed solders in western Europe, so if we're looking at NATO NRF of 25,000 or less, you need reserves and reserva... and rotation that's 75,000 or less. In Afghanistan it's 40, multiply that by three, you've got 120... You've got less than 200,000 soldiers out of two million? Where's the strain there? The strain is really budgetary and political, isn't it?

Okay, now the other two questions: Darfur, what is NATO doing for planning, if any, on Darfur, and how is that going to change in terms of its support for what it's doing now?

And could you tell us very quickly what's on the October informal meeting, MoD meeting, thanks?

APPATHURAI: Yes, to come to the first point. Yes, I've used the two million soldiers number myself. Of course, like anything, and you know this very well, it's more complicated than that. What we are talking about is combat. In many ways there is a strain on combat forces. There is a strain very much on enablers, helicopters, transport aircraft, strategic airlift. There are huge, huge budgetary constraints on forces. And if you are a smaller country let me say, Canada, or Norway, there comes a point where you have to choose. Do I put my forces into the NRF and lock them away, or do I put them into Afghanistan, where they are used elsewhere.

But I can tell you for my own country, we don't have the luxury of doing everything. So this is the great challenge with the NRF, and so we have to look at... we have to look at adapting the NRF model to make it more flexible, without, as I say, undermining the principles of it, so as to take account of the real world pressures of real world operations. That's the situation we're in.

Darfur. We have continued, you know this very well, our airlift in and out of Darfur of African Union troops and that is now about to take another small step forward in the context of what we had already agreed.

I have no doubt that NATO's support, if the African Union wishes it to continue... if the UN wishes for it to happen, will be looked at with a very open mind. But as far as I am aware, no specific request has come in from the African Union for support to the hybrid force in future. I could be wrong, but I don't think so.

I'm sorry, your third point was... oh Noordwijk. Noordwijk will be an informal defence ministers' meeting, as you know. I can't rule out a short formal session to approve documents, but in its essence it will be an informal meeting, not intended to take decisions, but to have discussions on Afghanistan. So A, I think Afghanistan and Kosovo there is no doubt, though NATO is not going to have a political discussion about Kosovo, defence ministers I'm sure will want to look at the situation there. And particularly related to KFOR.

Afghanistan, I think the challenges are clear. Not only NATO's own challenges, and that is of course always relating to force generation and rotation, but looking at the other challenges in Afghanistan, we talk about the comprehensive approach. NATO cannot do what needs to be done in Afghanistan alone, even in the remit of security forces. There is a very great challenge with the police, which is not NATO's job, but is, of course, directly relevant to the work that NATO does.

I think training and equipping the Afghan National Army will be topic number one when we address Afghanistan. NATO is short. We have a significant shortfall in providing Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams to the Afghan National Army. Our mission must include providing the Afghans with the capability to defend themselves, because of course, NATO's military operation there cannot go on indefinitely.

We are providing some OMLTs, we need to provide a lot more and the demand to provide them will only grow because the Afghan National Army is growing. Where it is now at almost 40,000, it will soon be at 80,000 and they will need deployed trainers from NATO, from the United States-led coalition as well.

So to my mind OMLTs will be the biggest discussion... training, training of Afghan security forces will be topic number one when it comes to Afghanistan.

The NRF will also be firmly on the agenda. Hopefully the military will have made its assessment by then. It will be ready for political discussion how, if at all, the NRF will be adapted in the ways that we have discussed.

I think that's... those are the key points of interest. Gentlemen.

Q: I have a few questions. The first one is about this... the Serbian thing you said about... where did the request come from? And where will you... to whom will you give that... the figures to? And then you mentioned NGO, so will it be if you give the figures to the government, will the government give it to the NGO, or you will give it? So if you can clarify that.

The second one is it's always the NATO says that it's going to push Taliban out. Why the NATO is not capable of finishing Taliban? It just pushes it into where? Pakistan? I don't know which way... where does it push it to?

The third one is that there have been visits of different personalities to the NATO, and every time we get a press list that no press opportunity and while speaking to the other side of the... they say that it's NATO which has to organize those. So if... otherwise there's no need to send us a press... you know.

And the fourth one is about Pakistan. I know you'll say it's an internal matter, but if you think about it the fallout on the NATO, if there are going to be casualties because of Taliban being the support from there. So it is not only an internal matter. It is more than just an internal matter.

APPATHURAI: What's the question, sorry?

Q: NATO comments on what is going on in Pakistan?

APPATHURAI: Well, what's going on in Pakistan? There's a lot going on.

Q: (Inaudible)... the military democracy.

APPATHURAI: Yes. Serbia. The request came from the Serbian government through their... I think it's their special representative. He's not formally an ambassador to NATO, but Ambassador Milinkovic. The information, as far as I know, will be given directly to him as Serbia's representative to NATO.

My understanding, again, is that the information will be passed through the Serbian government to the Norwegian NGO that will play a leadership role in the... in mapping out the munitions.

Pushing the Taliban out to where... Yes, well it would be nice if we could push them all the way out, but the... these operations are designed exactly within a defined area to push the Taliban out of that defined area, and then establish where a possible... an enduring security presence, to the extent possible, an increasingly Afghan security presence. And create the conditions as quickly as possible for the government, the elected government, to lead a reconstruction and development process within, again, this defined area.

And then hopefully to continue to expand the area. That has had success in some areas. It is no secret that at times we have withdrawn our forces and those gains have been rolled back.

We have learned that lesson, NATO has learned that lesson, and you will see a more sustainable approach to clearing areas of the Taliban in future.

Q: To continue the Serbian topic...


Q: Why did the Serbian government demand that on cluster ammunition and that would come to Serbia several years ago when the NATO military operation was taking place there, there were media reports that possibly ammunition with low grade uranium has been used. This is very dangerous, every knows about it. Is there a demand asking about data concerning such ammunition?

APPATHURAI: Thank you. The relative dangers of depleted uranium I have to say are actually a very open question. We did a very exhaustive study within NATO when this all came up, within NATO allies. The results of which are all on the website. And the health... the negative health affects, I have to say, what I'm told, I'm no scientist, but the results of this was that they are extremely limited and if they weren't we wouldn't use them, because A, there are laws, and B, our own soldiers are involved.

But to answer your question more fully, the Serbian government already asked, years ago, for the information on the use of depleted uranium. All of that data has been provided to them, with precise locations, and by the way, if I understand correctly, you can go to the NATO website yourself and find exactly where all the depleted uranium was fired. So that information has been made as public as it can be.

Q: Yesterday, a Croatian delegation and an Albanian delegation were visiting NATO and they seemed quite optimistic about getting an invitation by the summit of Bucharest for the membership in NATO.

I just wanted to know if NATO shares this optimism. And can we imagine a situation where Croatia get an invitation and Macedonia and Albania not?

And the second question is, Peter Feith in ESDP said in European Parliament that European Union must be prepared with NATO for escalation situation in Kosovo by the end of the year. So regarding, you know, all the requirements.

But we know that European Union and NATO are collaborating on the ground, so are you prepared in the case there will be an escalation of situation by the end of the year? Thank you.

APPATHURAI: Thank you. Well, it's not really our business to be optimistic, but certainly NATO wants all three of the MAP countries to join the Alliance, hopes that that will come as quickly as possible, and is working with each of the three to make that happen as quickly as possible.

Is it possible that one or two or three could join? Yes, each country will be judged on its own merits. It can be one, it can be two, it can be three. There is no packaging when it comes to membership in NATO. 

As to whether or not NATO is prepared you should be sure that NATO is fully prepared for any eventualities on the ground. Our military commanders are working very closely, as you say with EU personnel, but also in close association with authorities in Kosovo. Also with the authorities in Belgrade, with the military authorities in Belgrade.

We have the forces in place, we have the plans in place, and we have the reserves in place if necessary. So there should be no doubt about NATO's readiness to deal with any situation if it deteriorates.

Q: James, could you just confirm whether or not there was a formal request by NATO to the Dutch government to keep its troops in Afghanistan earlier this summer, I believe? What form this request took, and its significance? I mean, how often do you make these sorts of requests?

APPATHURAI: That's the key point at the end. NATO's Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, DSACEUR, is responsible for force generation. That is his job, and he is in constant contact, including with the Dutch government, to request forces for the Alliance. Has he been in contact with the Dutch government over the summer? Yes. Has he been in touch with many other governments in exactly the same way, through exactly the same channels? Yes. So this is part of a normal process of force generation, not one especially singling out the Dutch, but yes, including the Dutch.

Q: A follow-up on both of her questions. First, has the situation in Macedonia evolved since the agreement signed in May with the Albanian opposition? And what do you think of the relations between the government and the president in Macedonia? What will you tell the special coordinator tomorrow at the meeting?

And secondly, when you say that you are fully prepared for everything in Kosovo, do you also expect escalation in the end of the year? In what way have you assessed the risks in Kosovo, but also in Macedonia? Are you concerned for Macedonia's stability?

APPATHURAI: To answer the first question, if I don't answer it you'll excuse me, but I don't want to prejudice what is told to the special repersentative later. I know the meeting's taking place, I have an idea of what they're going to talk about, but I won't go into that now.

On Kosovo, it's not a question of expectation it's a question of preparation. We are, as I say, prepared for any eventuality. Of course, as the end of the year comes closer there are increasing political pressures in all directions, and not just in Kosovo. We can also see them in Belgrade. But these are political pressures. We expect all parties, particularly in Kosovo, to remain calm, to work through the normal political channels. There is no excuse for violence. Violence will serve no purpose, and it will be dealt with very firmly if it comes up.

When it comes to Macedonia, I have no heard any concerns about risks to the stability in Macedonia.

Q: Is there political pressure in Macedonia?

APPATHURAI: Is there political pressure in Macedonia? For what?

Q: On Kosovo issue?

APPATHURAI: Not that I'm aware of.

Q: It's eight years now since the air strikes on Serbia. Why has it taking so long to provide them with the information that is essentially of a humanitarian nature, I could say, in this case?

And will the information that you're providing to the Serb government, will that be made public? Will we be able to see how many cluster bombs were released and where they were released.


Q: And coming back to the NRF, I'm a little bit... I mean, this is... you say it's not a crisis, but it's certainly a huge u-turn, as far as I can see, by NATO. I mean, it was only a few months ago that we were down in Cape Verde and this was the vanguard of the new NATO.

What has changed so much? I mean the pressure on NATO troops, okay, there are more people in Afghanistan now, but the vast majority of those are American troops who went from being under Enduring Freedom to being under NATO. The main European players have not increased that significantly, apart from the British maybe, have not increased their forces in Afghanistan, the Germans, the French, the Italians, the Italians, the Spanish.

APPATHURAI: (Inaudible)... The Canadians have.  That's (inaudible)...

Q: The Canadians have, but the Germans, the Italians, the Spanish, the French... you know, they still have what, a thousand each, something like this, maybe 2000.

APPATHURAI: Thirty-five hundred Germans.

Q: Okay, 3,500 from an army the size of Germany. You know, what... what are the options? Given all that, what are the options that the military are looking at. The new, I mean, the NRF, what are they looking at?

APPATHURAI: Why so long? The request from the Serbian government came in in February. And since then NATO has been working. So until then there was no request. We have been working very hard to get that information. I can tell you from the moment it came it has not been easy, because of course, A, it was eight years ago, and B, these munitions were dropped by individual nations, not by NATO. NATO doesn't have its own air force. So of course, we had to work with... work through the archives of various nations from eight years ago to try to find very precise GPS locations of munitions.

So it was not an easy job and frankly, once you understand how difficult the process is it was done pretty fast once the request came in.

Will it be made public? That I don't know. Certainly we won't control what the Serbian government does. From our perspective no decision has been made yet on whether or not that data will be made public. Or in what form it will be made public. But I think in a couple of weeks we'll have an answer on that.

The NRF. I guess I really don't have the same perspective on this that you do or that you... or that the question implies anyway. The NRF was established as a concept. It was... it got its initial operating capability, then its full operational capability. There has been, since then, as I said, a much larger operation in Afghanistan, in particular, but also strains in other parts of the world, that are not NATO operations, but that are ongoing, heavy, or operations that have heavy demand or potential heavy demand on western forces. I think that's an important context. It's not just NATO. It's NATO countries contributing to a whole range of operations or being asked by the United Nations, for example, to contribute to a whole range.

And look at what's happening in Darfur. Again, they're having great difficulty meeting half of what they have. Not only for practical reasons, but also for practical reasons. And there will be new demands for a hybrid mission. There will be the mission in Chad, etcetera, etcetera. Lebanon, I could go on.

Q: (Inaudible)... the very same nations, sorry to be French, I have to excuse myself, but the very same nations that will be a framework nation in Chad is France, which has already 1,000 soldiers there, and which will add 1,000 or 2,000. And the recent nation which put a priority on NRF is the same country which is in the case to keep his troops within NRF. So it's probably more of a political problem than a strain on troops, and maybe there is some kind of debate which is hidden, that is to say, some countries that wanted to have this new NRF, wanted it to be used in a way, some of us in another way and hence the problems are raised.

APPATHURAI: No, I think you're looking for subtext where there is no subtext. You're quite right about France, now, don't enter into a polemic, but also the... for example, the Nordic Battle Group is also considered to be part of the Chad... in discussion to be part of the Chad mission. So it's not just France.

But I think we're getting a little off topic. The key point is this: The NRF has to evolve. The original model, which was right for the time, is under pressure from real world requirements. The military has to look at how to adapt it to sustain it. To sustain it that means looking at it more flexibly. And the key consideration, I think, the key consideration is do we need to maintain the whole 25,000 on standby perpetually, or do we maintain a lower number on standby with the backbone, that means the command and control structure, the training facilities, etcetera, with the backbone to expand quickly if we need it. So we can do extremely quickly, the lower level missions, and if it's a higher level requirement, we generate the forces and bolt them on to the infrastructure that has been built.

That is, in essence, I think the nature of the discussion that the military is having and the next question being does that make sense? Will it maintain the military capability you need, perhaps at a lower level on a regular basis, but with the opportunity to go higher? Will it provide the opportunities for joint training, and the other transformational elements?

If they can answer those questions with a yes then the upside is, we manage to preserve the NRF in its essence, as I say, with the opportunity to grow to what it needs to be, without putting an impossible strain when it comes to competition with operations, which have to be the first priority.

Is there anything else I'm missing? No, I think that's it.

Q: Thank you. James, (inaudible), is there any development in the antimissile issue and your ongoing consultations with Russians or Americans, or maybe you intend to discuss this issue in the nearest future?

And the last thing, could you comment the current disagreements between Russians and Russia and United States about the use of Gabala station. Thank you.

APPATHURAI: Well, this is an easy one. No, I'm not going to comment. It is not for me to comment on the Russia-U.S. discussions.
Our consultation with the Russian Federation are ongoing on missile defence, and we expect that a meeting will take place at a high level, at the usual level, in the middle of next month. So that is our planning. Nothing is yet confirmed, but we hope for a meeting at NATO Headquarters with high-level Russian and U.S. experts to consult on missile defence, in the middle of next month. But no formal date has yet been confirmed.

Q: In Dutch newspaper the Secretary General is quoted as saying today that he cannot imagine that a country that is now in Afghanistan will leave. They simply can't leave. Is there really conviction and where is it based on? Wishful thinking or is the way to put pressure on the Dutch government?

APPATHURAI: Well, the Secretary General's belief is we've had 37 countries in there from the beginning... well, at least it has grown to 37, but the number has never gone down. Everybody understands that this is a long-term commitment, in Afghanistan. And I believe even the countries that are talking about adapting their mission are not talking about packing up and leaving altogether. That is quite clear.

He believes, quite firmly, that it would be difficult to imagine that the Dutch would pack up and go home. He has said that quite explicitly in the NRC... I think it was in the NRC, (inaudible) today, which somebody read to me. And that's where we stand. That no country has left, he is right, and he sees this as a long-term commitment to which the allies should remain engaged, no doubt.

Q: I don't want to insist, but you didn't answer my question. Do you see progress in Macedonia since June?

APPATHURAI: Sorry, I deliberately didn't answer the question.

Q: Why?

APPATHURAI: (Laughs). A, because there is a formal process in NATO which is not for me to comment on in public. Second, because your special coordinator is coming, the special coordinator is coming tomorrow and they want to have that discussion there, and not here. So that's why. Sorry.

Q: James, just to come back to (inaudible)... when you say that it has to evolve and it's not right for its time anymore, are you saying that the threats and challenges which the NRF were designed to tackle are no longer there? Are you saying that the NRF is not the right tool to deal with those threats and challenges? Or is it purely, you know, we'd like to have it but we can't because we don't have the troops?

APPATHURAI: I think the threats and challenges are, of course very similar today than what they were three years ago. But, first, we have a number of troops in the field doing much of what the NRF was designed to do, and that is they are working together, they are training together, they are learning the latest doctrine, because they're having to do it every day on the ground against what are the 21st Century security challenges, or at least some of the 21st Century security challenges that relates in particular to asymmetric attacks, fighting against terrorism, IED suicide bombs, learning to integrate their command and control structures in a very complex environment; the kind of logistics and transport challenges that Afghanistan faces, or poses to international forces.

So there is a transformation element to the Afghanistan operation, which is, in many ways, reflecting what the NRF was designed to help promote. But I think the key point of pressure to maintain forces in the field is, to my mind, the driving force behind this. There is no doubt about this. There is great pressure of real world operations, and the truth is, is that it is very difficult for nations to maintain the 25, which means 75-plus-thousand forces for the NRF.

They believe that there is a way, and that is what the military is looking at, to preserve the capability to generate right up to the full force of the 25,000 of the NRF, if necessary to keep its backbone, its essence, and at a lower level, a number of troops on readiness, but that they are looking at whether—and this is the key, because no decision's been taken—whether this model can be adapted to reflect the real world that we're in now, while still preserving the model of the capability.

Please. Then I'm going to have to pack up, I'm afraid.

Q: You mentioned... I am still not clear about this Afghanistan concept of pushing out of that defined area because... okay I'm not a military expert, but you push out from that area, they go to other area, and as you said, NATO has learned its lessons. And then you... so this is... this has to be a long-term, because you push them into other area they come back or why... the thing is not to eliminate, you know, or exterminate, or whatever those movies were made. So to remove them, you know, like you have cancer you fight cancer to remove cancer, not to push it from one organ to another organ.

And that's what happened with... at the first thing when you pushed them up to Tora Bora and all that, and then we went into the Pakistan, as you say.

APPATHURAI: Well, I think... I think we have to understand the reality of Afghanistan. There are significant numbers of Taliban, but that can be defined in various ways. There are a limited number of extremists in Afghanistan. There are a number of others who have sympathies, Taliban sympathies, but of course, the Taliban phenomenon is not limited to Afghanistan there is a porous border, there is Talibanization across the border in the frontier provinces. And so the problem of the Taliban is not exclusively a problem of Afghanistan. 

That is quite clear an that's why cooperation with the Pakistan government is so important, why an effort for the Pakistan government, and we see that increasingly, to tackle this problem as well—which by the way is also their problem and they recognize this—is absolutely essential.

There is also, of course, discussion in Afghanistan led by President Karzai and not for NATO, but led by President Karzai, to engage with the non-extreme Taliban. He has, for years, now had an open hand to negotiation with what he considers to be Taliban with whom you can speak. I don't want to comment on the merits of that, because it's not for me to comment on it, but there is also the potential of a political engagement.

My own personal belief is that utter eradication of every Taliban in Afghanistan, that is not obviously a realistic possibility. Nor is that the aim. It is not the NATO aim. The NATO aim is to create the conditions for increased governance by governance... sorry, but to help the Afghan government extend its authority in the government... in the country, to create the conditions for reconstruction and development and...

There's something going on in Skopje...


APPATHURAI: And of course an essential element of that has to be training and equipping the Afghans so that they can fight their own fight. Will this fight be over tomorrow? No, it will not be, but we do have to give them the capability to fight their own fight, and at the same time the Pakistanis have to work with the Afghans to help solve the problem of cross-border Talibanization.

Is there a last urgent one, because I have a driver who needs to go, frankly.

Q: Just one clarification.

APPATHURAI: Yeah, please.

Q: This operation which was launched today...


Q: ...which area was that? I didn't get the...

APPATHURAI: Helmand province.

Q: Helmand province.

APPATHURAI: Gereshk. Afghan-led.

Q: (inaudible)... I'm just wondering about the OMLT, you mentioned.

APPATHURAI: Mm-hmm. Yes.

Q: Are you going to ask for more to the Partner of Peace countries? Are you going to ask more commitment from them?

APPATHURAI: That's a good question. I don't know the answer to that. On training. I imagine yes. I think they will certainly ask all 37 troop-contributing nations to contribute OMLTs, that there I have no doubt. So all of the ISAF countries, I'm sure, will be very welcome to provide OMLTs. I think to provide one you'd probably have to become an ISAF country, so I don't think it's a wider PfP issue, but I think it's an ISAF issue. But I'm quite sure that all 37 ISAF countries will be welcome to provide OMLTs.