Press briefing

by NATO Spokesman James Appathurai, at the beginning of the informal NATO Defence Ministerial Meeting in Bratislava

  • 22 Oct. 2009
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  • Last updated: 23 Oct. 2009 11:07

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Hello, friends. I see a lot of familiar faces. I don't know if anybody else is outside, but if they are they'll come in while I'm talking. And I'll just get my pen out as well. And I'll take this off as well.

Friends and new friend, for those who I don't know, thank you for coming. I just want to take five minutes to update you a little bit on where we are now and what our expectations are, the Secretary General's expectations are, for the next day or so, and then I'm happy to take your questions.

This evening the dinner, which the Secretary General will chair, will focus, in essence, on transformation, and that will have a couple of main elements. One is on money, and one is on capability. And of course they go together.

The bottom line, when it comes to money, is this: In the next few years we foresee a shortfall of several hundred million euros between what governments have committed to do within NATO budgets when it comes to operations and capabilities, and what they have allocated in terms of money to pay for that. That shortfall will only grow as NATO's responsibilities grow as well.

The Secretary General is going to draw attention to that this evening and ask allies to look at where we can do a number of things. One is to prioritize the things that we do, the things that are more important, the things that are less important. Second, to see how we can pool resources, pool assets, do better at being cost effective in the way in which we acquire equipment, in the way in which we do our logistics.

I'll give you a very good example that it can work and that is, as many of you who have followed NATO for some time know, we have worked very hard to put in place a NATO-operated capability for transport aircraft. All three of those C-17s are now in service. They have already flown missions to Afghanistan in the last little while. So it can happen. And he will be trying to focus attention on how we can do that.

The financial situation in the world and Slovakia has not been a country that escaped it, makes it all the more important that a little bit of imagination and political courage is demonstrated when it comes to the money aspects of what we do.

A second aspect is capability. In essence less than half of our forces are deployable outside of the country which provides them. Less than 10 percent are sustainable outside of the country for any extended period of time. There has been a lot of improvement in the last four or five years in raising those numbers, but it is still not enough, because not only can forces that can't move not be sent very far out of area, for example, to Afghanistan, they're also quite limited in the kind of support they can provide even to allies in an Article 5 contingency.

So more deployable forces, more sustainable forces make sense, both for collective defence and for out-of-area operations and the Secretary General is basically going to want to put before allies the idea of having more concrete timelines for reaching higher targets for deployability and sustainability of their forces.

Tomorrow will be devoted, as you can imagine, principally to two subjects: Afghanistan and missile defence. On Afghanistan, in essence, there are, I would say, two or three main elements. One is a discussion of the approach. What is the approach that we should have in Afghanistan. Not the strategy, that is clear. The approach.

The allies have all been discussing General McChrystal's initial assessment, as well as his resource paper. There's been extensive discussions in NATO headquarters based on military advice on the initial assessment from General McChrystal and his resource paper as well.

We will see, of course, what the shared view is on approach. The Secretary General will have a press conference around lunch time tomorrow. But his view is very clear. His view is this: In Afghanistan you cannot separate counterterrorism from counterinsurgency. To make Afghanistan able to resist terrorism for the long term it must be able to resist insurgency because you cannot separate the Taleban from al-Qaeda. Or you cannot presume that they will be separate in future... the Taleban has hosted al-Qaeda in the past. There's no reason to assume and no way to be sure that extreme elements of the Taleban would not do that in future.

So Afghanistan has to be made strong enough to be able to resist terrorism, and that means being able to resist the insurgency as well.

What does that mean? It means a broad effort to help Afghanistan stand on its own feet in the civilian and in the military aspects as well.

So that brings us to the next point, transition. I'll focus on the security aspects first. The Secretary General will be seeking endorsement from allies to step up our efforts towards transition. And transition in this case means putting the resources in place to help the Afghans become more quickly capable of taking lead security responsibility province by province, district by district, in their own country. With Afghan Security Forces in the lead, and NATO forces in support.

And I want to be very clear, this is not about withdrawal. This is about a transition process from us in the lead to Afghans in the lead, and us in support. That is the essence of transition.

That requires a political endorsement, and that's what we'll be discussing tomorrow... Ministers will be discussing tomorrow. But it also requires resources. And that means people, training teams, and money.

NATO is in the process of setting up a training mission in Afghanistan which will do, in essence, two things. It will step up NATO's role in training the Afghan army, including overseeing the training and deployment of, and operation of mobile training teams embedded with, partnered with, Afghan forces. It will also bring a substantial amount of police training under the overall NATO training mission umbrella. And step up NATO's role in training the police as well.

The Secretary General will be encouraging allies today and tomorrow, or tomorrow in particular, to step up their efforts to provide the resources necessary to do this. And when I mention resources I mention money. Afghanistan will not have, in the foreseeable future, the revenues as a government to fund the Afghan National Security Forces. But it is substantially less expensive to train, equip and sustain Afghan forces, than it is to send a Canadian soldier or an American soldier or a Belgian soldier to Afghanistan and keep them there. It is very clearly an investment in spending less in future and doing less in future, if we invest more now in Afghan Security Forces.

So that will be the second main element, which brings me to the third part, which is the civilian aspects. I'm quite sure there will be an extensive discussion tomorrow, in the presence of Defence Minister Wardak and Kai Eide, as well as the EU, about what else needs to be done in terms of the civilian effort.

We need a substantially enhanced civilian effort. We need more coordination between the civilians and the military sides, and very importantly, as the Secretary General said just about an hour ago, we need to ask and to insist on much more from the incoming Afghan government when it comes to fighting corruption, improving governance. When the Afghan government is trusted by the Afghan people to provide effective services that will suck the oxygen away from the insurgency and that is an essential element of an effective fight against the insurgency.

So I suspect that that also will be on the agenda, but certainly the Secretary General has already mentioned this today.

Finally, missile defence. Secretary Gates will, we expect, kick off the discussion on missile defence by going through the latest in the U.S. thinking when it comes to missile defence in Europe and for Europe. Many allies, and the Secretary General also, have welcomed the fact that the new U.S. thinking puts NATO much more... or puts missile defence for Europe much more into a NATO context, and I think there will be a discussion tomorrow of what the next steps will be, with an eye to the Lisbon Summit, as to how to NATO-ize missile defence for Europe in the coming years.

I think that's all I had to say for the agenda. I'm happy to take your questions. If you have any. Please.

Q: Bari Hakim, Deutsche Welle Dari and Pashto services. Afghanistan would have on November 7th the second round of elections. And still the security situation is terrible. Would NATO help and support Afghan in this process and how will it support this?

JAMES APPATHURAI: Thank you. It is, of course, very important that this second round takes place in a way that is as free, fair and non-corrupt, without fraud, to the greatest extent possible. So NATO will certainly play its part, as we did for the first round. We flew in, as you know, many thousands of forces into Afghanistan. They are still there. And they will play their part. Third line security, you remember how it was last time, Afghan Police will be closest to the polling centres. Afghan Army will provide a perimeter security, and NATO ISAF will be there in support. NATO ISAF is also available to transport ballot material for the United Nations and for the Afghan government. So we will do our part.

The first round of elections from a security point of view, went reasonably well. Over 90 percent of the polling stations that were due to open did open. Only three percent of them came under any kind of attack at all. So from that point of view it went reasonably well, and we will certainly do our part to help it to be as secure as possible again, because, and of course this is the political point, we hope that as many Afghans as possible come out to exercise their hard-won democratic right to choose their own leader. Despite what is obviously a very difficult situation, we do hope they come out to vote and we will do our part.

Q: David Brunnstrum from Reuters. James, I was just a bit confused by your differentiation between strategy and approach. Could you explain a bit?

JAMES APPATHURAI: The overall... I mean, I don't want to get into too much into technicalities. The overall aim, let me put it that way, the overall aim in Afghanistan, is very clear. And that is to ensure that Afghanistan no longer poses a threat to the international community. That terrorism no longer finds safe haven in Afghanistan.

We have an operational plan. That operational plan is not in question. The question is, where do we put emphasis in terms of the resources, in terms of where operations are concentrated, in order to most effectively achieve the aims set out in the operational plan. And that is, in essence, what's being discussed now. But no one is talking about a fundamental revision of the operational plan. And certainly the Secretary General is not talking about moving from generally what we're doing now and what the international community is doing now, towards a pure counterterrorism operation where you hunt and kill individual terrorists in the mountains. That would be a fundamental shift, and that's not, from what I understand, on the table.

Q: James, you mentioned these statistics about the forces. You said about half of them are deployable and less than ten percent are sustainable. Do you have any figures on the total forces that NATO has at its disposal, all of its member states together?

JAMES APPATHURAI: Do I know how many forces total are... well, my understanding is, if I get it right, and Robert can correct me, it's about two and a half million, if you take the totality of the Alliance.

Ah, they spring up. I'm going to, by the way, mention one thing before I take this question in response to an e-mail I got. What I am informed is that ISAF has confirmed, this is in response to a story that a helicopter has... or an aircraft had gone down. ISAF has confirmed that all ISAF and ANSF aircraft are accounted for. There are no aircraft from ISAF or ANSF missing and there are no reports that we have of civilian aircraft missing at this time. Just to clarify that story that was going around.

Q: Yes, Dieter Eberling from DPA, the German Press Agency. One question I have to ask, can you be more specific about the several hundred millions euros missing. And the second question is, if I understand correctly, Secretary Gates, when leaving Seoul today said the question of troop figures is one question, and there is an obvious link to what the American president will decide, but that there is a lot of questions about which there is a basic agreement, for example, reinforcement of training, of police and the army, and so he seemed to indicate there's no need for the allies to stall or to delay any decisions on those topics.

Do you expect concrete pledges, concrete decisions on, for example, increase in the training capabilities?

JAMES APPATHURAI: Thank you. To answer the first question no, I can't be more specific. Not that we don't know, but I have not been authorized to be any more specific, to be very frank.

In terms of reinforcement, I think Secretary Gates is absolutely right. It is already clear what the shortfall is in terms of training and equipping the Afghan National Security Forces, even to the totals that have already been agreed, and that is about 220,000 if you combine the two, army and police.

We aren't that short now in that the requirement in terms of the Afghan National Army is for 68 training teams from NATO, of which 59 have already been provided. So at present we're only short nine. But that number will grow substantially as the Afghan army grows substantially. To a total of 103 teams, in which case, and at that point, we will be quite substantially short.

Now we're not there yet, as I say. Not we're only short nine and these teams are about 15 to 30 people, so it should be doable. The Secretary General believes it is doable at present.

If, however, and since it is no secret to anyone who reads the Washington Post, at a certain stage allies support a decision which would have to be taken not by allies, but by the Afghan government and other bodies, to increase the number of the Afghan National Security Forces to the 400,000 number that has been kicked around, and has been recommended by General McChrystal, then you're talking about a substantially increased number of trainers required.

Now, we're not there yet, but certainly we know, even based on what the requirement is now, that we will need more in terms of trainers and other support.

Q: (Inaudible...).

JAMES APPATHURAI: I don't know, of course, what Ministers will announce. The aim of this meeting was not to do force generation. You've heard this a million times, but we do force generation at SHAPE. We don't do it at ministerials. But sometimes Ministers do wish to make pledges at the table. We will see if they do that.

Q: You were reporting about the General Secretary's conviction that counterterrorism and counterinsurgency can not any longer be separated. Does that mean there's a change on the ground as well? I mean, why then separate the two forces that do these two jobs? You have OEF doing counterterrorism and ISAF doing counterinsurgency.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Well, I understand your question. I would say two things. One is, much of what OEF did has been moved into ISAF anyway. Most of what remains in OEF is training. Those are big numbers of personnel in OEF, but the bulk of them do training, with a few doing counterterrorism, very specific intelligence-driven counterterror operations.

But to say they can't be separated doesn't mean that there is not a full spectrum of activities that needs to be done in the same country. Doing counterinsurgency in Afghanistan does not mean you stop going after, as an international community, as an international force, and led by the Afghans the leadership that is directing these operations. It is quite clear, based on the assessments both from our intelligence services, but also from the Afghans, that there is a hard core of insurgent leadership that will not be reconciled, that will never agree to abide by the constitution of the government. And those people will have to be dealt with in a different way.

So I don't think we should get too fixated on command structures. These are two operations that work side-by-side and that are involved in a spectrum of activities. The Secretary General's point was, you can't just rely on that. That alone will not make Afghanistan an inhospitable environment for terrorism, and what we need for sustainable security for us and for them, is that Afghanistan becomes an inhospitable environment for terrorism.

Q: James, has NATO received any request from Pakistan to seal the border, the Afghani border in relation with the Waziristan operation? Thank you.

JAMES APPATHURAI: I have seen press reports that requests were passed for some kind of further cooperation. What I can say is this: We have, over the last 18 months, moved, I think, tens of thousands, well over 10,000 troops into the south and the east of the country. So we have beefed up substantially the forces that we have precisely in the area on our side of the border, which has relevance for Pakistan.

Second, we still have intelligence cooperation with the Pakistanis and the Afghans through a joint intelligence centre in Kabul, and we still have the border control coordination centres, of which there are now two, construction working on the third, to help coordinate border activities.

So we have, I think, and I say we to include the Pakistanis, NATO, ISAF and the Afghans, substantially stepped up over the past 18 months, two years, the capabilities we have on the ground and the coordination between us.

Beyond that and beyond the press reports, I don't know exactly what has happened in the last day.

Q: Thanks, James. Does the Secretary General... is it his opinion that it would be prudent to wait until we get a clearer idea coming out of the November 7th election as to what type of Afghan government is going to be formed before we make any... before NATO makes any major decisions on the McChrystal report in terms of troop numbers and in terms of approach to the strategy?

JAMES APPATHURAI: I don't think... now, I'm just basing on what I know until now, but I don't expect, let me put it that way, a consensus decision at 28 with the signatures at the bottom on both the approach and on resources coming out of this meeting today and tomorrow.

I do expect a general discussion on approach. And I think the Secretary General would like to see a general shared view on what the approach should be. I don't expect, and I don't think he expects final decisions on resources, 10,000, 40,000, 80,000 or any other number, coming out of this meeting. Not least because, of course, all the capitals have not made up their mind, and also because, as you quite rightly point out, there is still a fluid situation in Kabul.

So I think the most we could hope for and what he will certainly be pushing for, is a general shared view that a broad counterinsurgency approach, which doesn't just involve NATO, but enhanced efforts on the civilian side as well, both Afghan and international. As well as a stepped up effort towards transition, with the resources for more training and equipping of the ANSF. Those, I think, are his hopes and for what he will be pushing in the meeting.

Q: The McChrystal report and the discussion that surrounds it is reasonably a radical rethink. Do you know of any other occasion since NATO's taken the lead since 2003 where we've done something this significantly different as this? And is this maybe sort of the last chance for NATO to get it right?

JAMES APPATHURAI: There have been constant adjustments to the approach and as you've followed NATO for quite some time you might think back to David Richards and the approach that he had, the evolution under different commanders, now again an evolution.

Afghanistan is in many ways a moving target. The situation changes. There are many factors, and no plan would stay unchanged for eight years. This is obviously an impossibility, and it is only normal and natural to examine it and to adjust it.

It has been perhaps this time a bit more public than in previous events. There's no doubt about that, and we've certainly never had a commander's assessment on the Washington Post website, so that's a little bit new. But aside from that I have been doing this long enough to have seen similar experiences, but in private... more behind closed doors.

Your second question was... oh, last chance. I think the first thing I would say is, this is not NATO's job alone. To say it's NATO's last chance to get it right, I think, does not characterize it properly.

This is an Afghan effort. It is an international effort. We say, and I think everybody understands, that this cannot be solved by military means alone. But that never gets translated into the next thought, which is then we cannot then only ask NATO to solve the problem, or expect that if it is going slower than it should then NATO needs to do something different.

We need the Afghan government to be a credible partner, to do much more, visibly more, to fight corruption, improve effectiveness, win the trust of the Afghan people. And as the Secretary General said two hours ago, we have the right to insist on that. Because of what we are investing in the country. We need a stepped up effort from the rest of the international community. That includes the UN, it includes the EU. We need more coordination. So we will do our part. I think it is safe to say you will see more out of NATO, in the coming months and years, but we will certainly be asking our partners to do more as well.

Last question. Then I've got to go.

Q: Was there any sort of quid pro quo in what the SecGen said a couple of hours ago, essentially making the continuance of the mission conditional on Afghanistan delivering in terms of governance, fighting corruption and so on, and on the same point, if establishing clarity about a credible Afghan government is for NATO some sort of condition for moving forward on the strategy and the troop numbers. What is the best case timeline here? It took two months to go from the August election to where we are now. The runoff is in two weeks. We're not going to have clarity on that result the next day. So what is the soonest that you think the Alliance will be able to make those decisions?

JAMES APPATHURAI: Well, thank you for those questions. First, no one has used the words quid pro quo and no one has used the word conditions. NATO will make its own decisions for its own reasons, but of course that doesn't mean we won't ask more of others. And that's what we will do.

In terms of timeline of course I cannot predict. I wouldn't want to suggest here, because that is not the information I have, that nobody will announce or come to a decision on troop numbers until a new Afghan government is formed. That may well be the case. It may not be the case. I can't say either way. So I would not want to put a hard timeline down because I simply wouldn't have any information to substantiate that.

I think you had one last question, actually.

Q: Thank you, James. Could you just give us an update on this report that has been drafted up by NATO on the recent incidents in Kunduz where the German army asked for the two lorries to be attacked, hijacked by the Taleban. When is that going to be published? Is something drafted already? Thanks.

JAMES APPATHURAI: All I can say is that from the latest information that I had, the Commander ISAF had not yet been briefed on the final results. It has not been sent up the NATO chain. So it is still in Kabul, but has not yet made its way out of Kabul, either to the NATO system or to Germany.

Thank you very much.