by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen prior to the NATO Foreign Affairs and Defence Ministers meetings at NATO Headquarters (followed by a Q&A session)
Good morning. We are just one month away from our Chicago summit. So this is the time to make sure that our preparations are on track as we enter the final stretch.
In Chicago, we will celebrate the vital link between America and Europe. And we will continue to invest in this transatlantic link, which remains as critical to our security in the future, as it has been in the past.
We will ensure that our Alliance has the modern, deployable and connected forces that we need for the next decade and beyond. We will do this through a renewed culture of cooperation we call Smart Defence. And I expect we will declare an interim missile defence capability, as a first step towards our long-term goal of providing missile defence for NATO’s European populations, territory and forces.
In Chicago, we will chart the course for our future engagement in Afghanistan. And today and tomorrow, Allies and partners are here to shape the Chicago decisions on Afghanistan – how we will complete transition to lead Afghan security responsibility within within the framework we agreed at the Lisbon summit, and how we will continue to support Afghanistan after 2014.
A few days ago, we saw several coordinated attacks in Kabul and elsewhere. But the attacks failed. The enemies of Afghanistan were defeated by the Afghan security forces.
I express my sympathy with the Afghan people who suffered in these attacks. And I commend the courageous Afghan soldiers and policemen who dealt with the attackers.
This shows that the Afghan security forces can deal with dangers and difficulties and they are getting stronger every day. I saw that with my own eyes in Afghanistan last week.
So, my message to the enemies of Aghanistan is very clear: you can’t just wait us out. As we gradually draw down, a still stronger Afghan security force is taking charge to protect the Afghan people against brutality and inhumanity.
Therefore, we will continue to support the Afghan Security Forces also beyond 2014. We will continue a training mission and we will support financially. We must make sure we maintain the gains made with so much investment in lives and resources.
And even in tough times, supporting the Afghan forces is a good deal in financial and political terms and NATO will pay its fair share. But a stable Afghanistan is in the interest of the whole international community, so I urge everyone to play their part – including Afghanistan itself.
We remain committed to our goal, our strategy, and our long-term partnership with Afghanistan. This is our message to the people of Afghanistan, to the enemies of Afghanistan, and to the neighbours of Afghanistan. Because it is in the interest of our own security.
And with that, I’m ready to take a couple of questions.
OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): Associated Press.
Q: I'm right over here. Secretary General, are you concerned that the latest announcement of the withdrawal of Australian troops in 2013 will trigger a rush for the exits immediately after the Summit?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO Secretary General): No, not at all concerned, and I would like to stress that the Australian announcement is fully within the framework of the roadmap we have outlined for a gradual transition to lead Afghan responsibility.
Probably the Oruzgan province, where the Australian soldiers operate will be among the provinces to be transitioned to lead Afghan responsibility in the coming months, whole of it or part of it.
And it's within the line of our strategy that as we gradually hand over lead responsibility to the Afghans we will also adapt our presence in Afghanistan.
Furthermore, let me remind you that the Australian Prime Minister Gillard made clear that Australia will stay committed to Afghanistan also beyond 2014, and all 50 Allies and partners within the ISAF coalition have committed themselves to the basic principle of in together, out together, and I know that the Australians are committed to that principle as well.
OANA LUNGESCU: ZDF German Television.
Q: Mr. Secretary General, Kai Niklasch from German Television. Will there be NATO troops, combat troops, after 2014?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I don't foresee a combat role after 2014, but we will continue a training mission. We'll continue to train, assist, advise the Afghan Security Forces. In that respect, of course we will have to figure out how exactly we will shape that mission. Do we need supplementary capabilities to make sure that our trainers can actually operate in support of the Afghan Security Forces. That decision has not been made yet, but it's clear that we will be there beyond 2014 and the core function will be a training mission.
OANA LUNGESCU: Egyptian TV.
Q: One question about the security situation in Afghanistan. Did you think that the security situation in Afghanistan is too difficult to manage?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I understand your question because we have seen some spectacular attacks and those coordinated attacks may very well get the headlines in the media. But the fact is that the enemies of Afghanistan don't get a foothold on the ground in Afghanistan. We saw Afghan Security Forces deal very skilfully and in a very professional manner with that security challenge. And that's the good news. We have really now seen in practice the Afghan Security Forces deal in a very professional way with security challenges. And that makes me very confident that we can realize our roadmap to gradually hand over lead responsibility for the security to the Afghans in a process that will be completed by the end of 2014.
And furthermore, we have seen a decline overall in the number of enemy-initiated attacks in Afghanistan. Last year, for the whole year, the number of enemy attacks decreased by nine percent compared to 2010. And during the first months of this year we have seen an even stronger decrease in the number of attacks, around ten percent decline in the number of attacks. And in some provinces, among them the Helmand province, the decrease has been even stronger.
So overall, we have seen an improvement of the security situation and I think the recent spectacular attacks shouldn't overshadow the fact that we are on tracks; we have made progress.
OANA LUNGESCU: One last question to DPA.
Q: (Inaudible...) Dieter Eberling from DPA, the German Press Agency. I think current estimates are that roughly $4.1 billion U.S. will be needed after 2014 to sustain the Afghan Security Forces. You have your own experience with the NATO Afghan Trust Fund. Will there be a firm commitment by Allies or by ISAF members about the burden sharing of the $4.1 billion here at that meeting, or if not, will there be a firm commitment at the Chicago Summit?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me stress that no final decision has been made as regards the size, the structure and the cost of the Afghan Security Forces in the longer term perspective, but you're right, that a figure of around $4 billion U.S. a year has been mentioned.
I would like to stress that neither this Ministers' meeting, nor the Chicago Summit, will be pledging conferences, but I would expect that at the Chicago Summit we will get a clear picture of the commitment to financing the Afghan Security Forces. And we will discuss that at this meeting today, and tomorrow, and I would expect NATO Allies and ISAF partners to commit themselves to pay a fair share of the total bill. We will discuss the exact numbers, but I would say a fair share.
And I think it's very easy to make the case that it's a good deal to finance the Afghan Security Forces, politically, because we will then give the defence of Afghanistan a strong Afghan face, and economically, because it is less expensive to finance Afghan Security Forces than to deploy foreign troops in Afghanistan.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much, we'll see you later through the day.