Press briefing

by the NATO Spokesperson and the Deputy Commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan

  • 25 Apr. 2012 -
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  • Last updated: 25 Apr. 2012 22:30

OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): Good afternoon. Good afternoon here in Brussels. And a very warm welcome to General Adrian Bradshaw in Kabul.

General Bradshaw is the Deputy Commander ISAF, and he's kindly agreed to join us today by satellite. General Bradshaw will make his opening remarks and then he will take your questions on Afghanistan. Afterwards, I'll bring you up to speed on other NATO issues.

General, over to you.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL ADRIAN J. BRADSHAW (CB OBE, Deputy Commander, International Security Assistance Force, ISAF, Afghanistan): Oana, well, thank you very much, indeed. And thank you for the opportunity to address you all back in Brussels.

We're at an interesting point in the campaign, I think. In 2011 we saw for the first time, after a number of years of increasing intensity of insurgency. We saw the momentum of the insurgency reversed. Insurgent-initiated attacks over the year were about ten percent down on what they were the previous year, which was quite a significant result, bearing in mind, as you know, during 2011 the surge of ISAF forces rolled out. Effectively, we were covering more ground, with more troops, with more places for the enemy to get at us, and yet, as I say, their attack rate went down by about ten percent.

Their stated intent, last year, was very clearly directed from their leadership outside the country. They were to regain parts of their heartland in Kandahar and Helmand, which had been brought under Afghan National Security Forces and ISAF control. And they were to achieve the recovery of some of that territory.

What, in fact, happened down in the south, was that the security zone was further expanded, and the writ of the Afghan Government here in Kabul was extended to more of Helmand and Kandahar provinces. And, indeed, we saw similar progress out in the east.

The only area where we saw insurgent attacks actually go up was right on the border, on the eastern border, which, I think, reflects the easy access from sanctuaries over the border for the insurgents.

Over the course of last year, also, we saw determined efforts by the insurgents to get into Kabul to disrupt the workings of the capital, the workings of the government. And that they manifestly failed to do. Yes, they did get some attacks into town, but the key events of the year, the Loya Jirga, which, of course, was an absolutely critical event in, not only the calendar of last year, but in mapping out the future for the government, was undisrupted. The opening of the Ghazni Stadium, that totemic place of execution for the Taliban, which was open for sports and occasions of national celebration, was undisrupted. The opening of Parliament undisrupted. So the key events of the year, as I say, went off without disruption.

We saw considerable improvements in the quality and capability of the Afghan National Security Forces also over last year. They showed, in the late part of last year, and over the winter, their confidence at planning and coordinating and leading brigade-level operations, again, in the hardest insurgent areas, in the south and in the east, working alongside ISAF, with assistance from ISAF, but with Afghan forces in the lead.

They managed to coordinate these operations very well with the police and with the local authorities, and in a number of areas they've shown competence and capability, which has not only surprised us, it surprised them.

We've seen special police, provincial response companies, roll out now in most of the provinces. One in Paktika late last year demonstrated its capability, having only just been stood up in the summer, by carrying out a very effective clearance of a building which had been taken over by insurgents, killing the insurgents and releasing a number of hostages. That was a great confidence boost to them, and to the population around there.

Similarly, we've seen excellent performances of the Afghan National Security Forces in the aftermath of the very regrettable improper disposal of religious material, which of course upset people very badly here. But the Afghan National Security Forces maintained control in the face of considerable violence. They took casualties, they took two fatalities, but they stood firm and they protected not only Afghan Government installations, but they protected ISAF as well, which I think is indicative of the excellent relationship that we enjoy with the Afghan Forces.

And also we've seen, over recent weeks and months, some progress now with the reintegration process, with, since early December last year, a 40 percent increase in numbers of people coming into the programme. We're now up in the high 4,000s of people, former insurgents, coming to join this... what might be a very important programme as it takes off, and all of these are encouraging signs.

Of course, we've got a great deal still to do. We've got to continue working on building the logistics capability of the Afghan Forces, we've got to build a degree of institutional depth, but as I say, I think we're at an important stage in the campaign where as we start to hand over more and more responsibility to our Afghan partners we're finding that the insurgents are under pressure, their momentum has been reversed, and we expect that progress to be maintained through this coming late spring and summer, and on towards our eventual handover of combat operations completely to the Afghan National Security Forces in late 2014.

So, with that brief introduction, I'm very happy to take some questions.

OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. And we'll go over there first, please. Don't forget to introduce yourself (inaudible...).

Q: Yes, General, (inaudible...) from (inaudible...). I have two questions. About the Security Force, do you find more difficulty to manage the security situation? And the second question, the Loya Jirga will ask maybe the Afghan Government to stop collaboration with NATO forces. Do you have comment about this request?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL ADRIAN J. BRADSHAW: The second question, the Loya Jirga of last year actually agreed, or it gave clearance for the government to make a strategic partnership agreement with the U.S., who, of course, are the majority stakeholders in this unprecedented coalition of 50 contributor nations.

This was very, very important because, of course, the relationship between the Afghan Government and the United States, I think, sets the platform for relationships with a number of nations who will be involved here beyond December 2014, continuing to assist in the development of the Afghan National Security Forces and in aspects of governance.

So I think the Loya Jirga was an important and very positive event from the point of view of the coalition.

I'm sorry, could you repeat the first question, please?

Q: Yes, about the Security Forces, do you find more difficulty to manage the security situation in Kabul exactly?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL ADRIAN J. BRADSHAW: If I understand your question correctly, you're asking if we're finding security more difficult in Kabul? My answer is that over the previous seven months the insurgency have been trying, very hard, to get attacks into central Kabul. Seven months ago was the last time that they managed to succeed in carrying out a complex attack here.

We did have an attack, as you know, not very long ago, about a week ago, and as I say, this was the first one for a long period, which is indicative, I think, of the success, in particular, of the Afghan National Directorate of Security in thwarting a number of quite serious threat streams into Kabul.

Sure, the insurgents did manage to get an attack in a few days ago. The attacks which took place in three main locations were almost completely unsuccessful, and we saw the Afghan National Security Forces carry out a well-coordinated response. They isolated the areas that were occupied by insurgents, they carried out very effective clearance operations and early the following morning the event was over and the capital returned to normality. And at the moment it is in a state of normality. The work of government and the life of the people continues as normal.

OANA LUNGESCU: Over there, please.

Q: General Bradshaw, my name is Jan Kordis, Europe Diplomacy & Defence. I have one question about the Memorandum of Understanding that was signed a few weeks ago between General Allen and General Wardak concerning special operations. This is an agreement that concerns only the American side, but I suppose that from the ISAF you are also conducting some special operations, so there was two main points. One, it is that in this memorandum the special operations are conducted by the Afghan Forces with only the support of the American side, and the other, it is... those operations have to be approved by the Afghan Operational Coordination Group. I wanted to know what are the rules concerning the special operations from the ISAF side, because I suppose that from the British, the French are also conducting special operations. Thank you.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL ADRIAN J. BRADSHAW: Well, thank you for that question. As you know, the majority of special operations are carried out by U.S. forces, but there are, indeed, special operations carried out by ISAF Special Forces as well. President Karzai and the Afghan Government have expressed satisfaction in the way those operations have been carried out. The majority, as perhaps you know, are Afghan accompanied. That is, Afghan, the vast majority, that is with Afghans accompanying them, and wherever a house is entered, of course, that is done by Afghan forces.

So I think that there was general satisfaction with the way those operations were being carried out, and so there was no requirement for an immediate change.

OANA LUNGESCU: We'll go to Geo TV first, please.

Q: Khalid Hameed Farooqi from Geo Television, Pakistan. General, can you explain that you said last seven months in particular the low intensity of attack, but we know Afghanistan is always start in the spring intensified during summer and that was, according to our information, Taliban... this was the trailer(?) basically... trailer was played in Kabul and they will start real... they are coming with their film(?) during summer. And how prepared are you, the summer attacks they will launch against the Allied forces?

And you said, the sanctuary across the borders from Torkham to Kabul is quite distance, so how they cross Torkham, General, and they go all the way to Kabul? Don't you think that it's the Central Afghanistan and Nuristan areas, the planning being done there and they come? Thank you very much.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL ADRIAN J. BRADSHAW: Well, thank you for your question. No, I don't think that the planning was done in Nuristan or Central Afghanistan, but in response to your point about the attacks a few days ago, I don't think they realistically signalled the start of something since we know very well that over the last seven months, as I pointed out, the insurgents have tried to get attacks into the capital almost continuously. And during that time nearly 400 insurgents involved in efforts to get trouble into the capital, have been arrested or killed. And a number of threat streams have been disrupted.

So, as I say, the insurgents have tried very hard, and the vast majority of their efforts have failed. They did manage to get this attack into the capital and as I say, it was largely ineffective.

OANA LUNGESCU: Associated Press.

Q: Yes, General, Slobo Lekic from the Associated Press. Since you mentioned that many operations are now Afghan-led, I wonder whether you've had a chance to see today, in your report by the Afghan Analysts Network think tank, which accuses NATO of misleading the public by calling operations Afghan-led, even in cases where ISAF forces are the only troops on the ground. It specifically mentioned what you mentioned earlier as well—the attacks in Kabul—saying that, in fact, Norwegian, British, Greek and Turkish soldiers were engaged in defeating this platoon-sized attack, and that NATO air power was finally called in to finish the standoff.

So can you comment on that?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL ADRIAN J. BRADSHAW: Well, yes, I can. I absolutely reject that suggestion. The operation the other day was Afghan-led. I went myself to visit Afghan Special Forces in the holding area prior to their committal to the attack. And we observed them go in to those strongholds, incredibly bravely and with great determination, and clear them floor by floor.

So I absolutely reject your suggestion. Of course, ISAF mentors work with Afghan National Security Forces. There's no secret about that. That is, in fact, the partnership effort that we're engaged in and will be engaged in until the end of 2014.

We provide advice, we provide help in a number of areas, but the main work is done, undoubtedly, by the Afghans. They make the plans, they execute the operations, and they're proving to do it very, very well.

OANA LUNGESCU: Europa Press.

Q: Thank you so much. Ana Pisonero from the Spanish News Agency Europa Press. I don't know if you can give us the latest figures on where Afghan Security Forces are leading which type of operations, conventional? I thought it was 40 percent, but I don't know if it's gone up to 60 percent. Also the special ops, if you can.

And my second question is, are you not worried that Allies are coming out ahead of time saying already that, you know, for example, in the case of the French with Kapisa will be transferred earlier than expected? Also with the Australians in Uruzgan? Are you not worried that, you know, that there's a cacophony and that the principle of in-together, out-together in the end will not be respected because when full transition is done, and in the case of these two concrete provinces will be a year earlier than the 2014, you know, is there not a risk that the plan of Lisbon completely flaws? Thank you.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL ADRIAN J. BRADSHAW: Well, I don't think that the Lisbon plan is remotely flawed. I think that the Lisbon plan is holding very, very strongly. You mentioned the French plans for Kapisa, and we'll await for clarity after their elections to see exactly what their plan is going to do... going to be. But as far as the Australians are concerned, they've issued a very clear message to clarify what their Prime Minister said, which is that they will be here until December 2014 in a combat role, and indeed, we may well see them here beyond 2014. Obviously that’s a decision for them possibly at a later stage.

But there is no question of them leaving combat operations before then.

As for Uruzgan province, it is due to enter the transition process at a certain stage, and as you know, by mid-2013 all provinces are planned to be in transition. So that will be the case across the country. But that is part and parcel of the plan, and we expect Afghan forces to continue to be partnered in those provinces until December 2014.

OANA LUNGESCU: Ana, just to stress again what General Bradshaw said, and what the Secretary General actually said before and during the Jumbo Ministerial last week, the announcement by the Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard is fully in line with the transition plan agreed at the Lisbon Summit in 2010.

We expect that one of the areas that President Karzai will announce in the next tranche of transition will be parts of Uruzgan where the Australian forces are, and as you know, transition in any given area takes anything between 12 and 18 months depending on the security conditions on the ground. But Prime Minister Gillard has also made very clear that Australia remains committed to Afghanistan and, indeed, remains committed to Afghanistan not just throughout transition, but also after 2014, with trainers and probably with other forms of assistance.

And just to make that very clear, there was consensus around the table of the Jumbo Ministerial last week that the principle of in-together, out-together, stays very firm. The Australians, which are very committed partners to ISAF, and indeed, to Afghanistan, also are very clear on that principle, and that principle was also restated when the Secretary General met the Australian Defence Minister after the ministerial last week.

If we have one last question for General Bradshaw...? Oh, we've got... okay, two more. One follow-up from Ana, and then over to you.

Q: Sorry, when do you expect, more or less, to know how many forces, combat forces, we'll need for 2013 for ISAF? What would be a good number for you? Because I understand that Commander Allen wants to keep as many as possible on the ground. So around the 100,000 between U.S. and the rest of the Allies, would that be sufficient for 2013? Thank you.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL ADRIAN J. BRADSHAW: I'm not going to answer that question, actually, for the simple reason that we will base our requirement on the conditions that we see at the time. As you know, we are pretty much set from the end of this year on a number which goes forward through the fighting season ahead through the next year. And when we come to the end of 2013 we'll make an assessment on the future requirement.

OANA LUNGESCU: And one last question over there.

Q: (Inaudible...) with (inaudible) News Agency. With information you have now and looking at once the transition is completed in 2014, do you think NATO will be in a position to keep only a training mission for the Afghan forces, or some combat operations will be needed after that date?

LIEUTENANT GENERAL ADRIAN J. BRADSHAW: After December 2014 I think the only thing we know for sure about what is likely for the NATO mission, is that we will be continuing to train leaders, build institutional depth and advise. Now the extent of that advisory role, I think, has still got to be worked through, but I think at this stage we anticipate that combat operations for NATO finish in December 2014.

OANA LUNGESCU: Indeed, we don't foresee a combat role for NATO in Afghanistan after 2014. However, as General Bradshaw has just said, we will continue to assist, to train and to advise the Afghan forces so that they remain strong and they remain capable beyond 2014, and we'll also ensure that our trainers have the resources that they need to do the job.

The details of our commitment to Afghanistan after 2014 will, of course, be discussed and agreed by Heads of State and Government at the Summit in Chicago, in less than one month from now. But what is clear is that NATO will remain committed to Afghanistan and to supporting Afghanistan so that it remains stable and secure after 2014.

With that, thank you very much, indeed, General Bradshaw. Thank you very much for joining us from Kabul.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL ADRIAN J. BRADSHAW: Well, thank you very much, indeed, Oana. And can I just finish by saying that, in summary, we've seen the momentum of the insurgency reversed, we're now going forward arm-in-arm with our Afghan partners as they grow in strength and capability. As you know, the Afghan National Security Forces will be up to a third of a million strong very shortly. They are increasingly confident, capable and they are achieving great things shoulder-to-shoulder with the 50 nations of ISAF.

And having just been on the ground, on patrol, with forces down in the south of the country earlier today, I can attest to the high morale and determination. We're going to keep relentless pressure on the enemy, and as I say, we expect to see the momentum of the insurgency continue in reverse as we go towards December 2014, and a seamless handover to our Afghan partners in December, when they fully take the responsibility for the combat role, and we've got great confidence in their ability to do that.

Thank you very much.

OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much, indeed. And as you can see you can pack a lot into one day in Afghanistan. Thank you.

I'll just carry on briefing you while the satellite connection to Kabul will now be discontinued and we'll let General Bradshaw carry on with the rest of the day.

The Secretary General will now start his round of pre-Summit consultations with capitals. During these visits he will exchange views on Summit topics, which, as you know, are Afghanistan, Capabilities and Partnerships.

Tomorrow will be the first opportunity for the Secretary General to meet with the government of Prime Minister Rajoy in Madrid, and after that he will go on to Rome on Friday where he will meet, among others, Prime Minister Monti.

And prior to the Summit we also expect him to visit London and Berlin.

On the 3rd of May the Deputy Secretary General, Ambassador Vershbow, will travel to Moscow to attend a conference on missile defence. This demonstrates that NATO remains committed to a serious dialogue with the Russian Federation on this key issue.

And I would say that together with the recent successful exercise with Russia on missile defence, which took place in Germany, and, of course, with the discussion with Foreign Minister Lavrov at the ministerial here on the agenda of the Chicago Summit, this shows how closely Russia and NATO continue to cooperate.

And finally, Kosovo. As many of you will probably know from media reports, the 2nd Battalion of the Operational Reserve Force, has now been activated, and will deploy to Kosovo shortly. This is part of our prudent planning and positioning to make sure that we have the necessary forces to do the mission. KFOR's mission is to preserve a safe and secure environment in Kosovo for all the people of Kosovo.

And this decision is based, as all such decisions, on an assessment of the security environment, and in order to make sure that we are well prepared for any possible escalation of tension.

But clearly it's important that everyone in the region should avoid both words and deeds which could lead to any further violence, because Kosovo needs to look forward to the future, not to the past, not the past of confrontation, but to the future of European and Euro-Atlantic integration, which is what NATO would like to see for the whole region.

And with that if there are any questions from you I'd be happy to take them, for about 10 minutes. Ana.

Q: Yes, it's just on Kosovo. Can you just remind us how many forces extra in this (inaudible) battalion and if it's just Austrian and German troops? And well, basically it's just for the elections now, I understand? Thank you.

OANA LUNGESCU: The 2nd Battalion is composed of troops from Germany and Austria. And the details are about 550 German troops and about 150 Austrian troops. And we expect them to be arriving very soon.

And obviously in terms of why they're there, as I said, this is because we always have to take into account all contingency planning, and we also need to be aware of any possible escalation intention because our mission in Kosovo is to make sure that it remains stable and secure as we have done for the last ten years.

Over there.

Q: The government of Pakistan decided to attend the NATO Summit in Chicago. Have you extended the invitation to them, or they are just... they did not confirm that they have...?

OANA LUNGESCU: There is still... there are still on-going consultations on the participation to the Summit, and the guests to the Summit. What I can tell you is I think I told you not so long ago is that we expect the meeting on Afghanistan to be the biggest in history, so therefore this Summit will be, clearly, one of the biggest, if not the biggest in NATO history. On the details we'll let you know when we have them.

Over there.

Q: Oana, do you have some news from Moscow about new ambassador?

OANA LUNGESCU: We expect an announcement from the Russian authorities. In the meantime there is, of course, an acting ambassador, so we are continuing to conduct our cooperation and communication with Russia as usual, and, in fact, very effectively because you were all here, I'm sure, when Minister Lavrov was here just the other day. And that session was extremely lively and constructive.

I don't see any other questions. Thank you very much.