Press Conference

by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen following the meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Defence Ministers session in Bratislava

  • 23 Oct. 2009
  • |
  • Last updated: 23 Oct. 2009 15:52

Let me begin by thanking our hosts for having welcomed us these past two days, and for the superb organisation. I would also thank the people who live here in Bratislava for their patience – I’m sure we have caused some of the worst traffic jams this city has every seen.

This has been a relatively short Ministerial meeting – starting yesterday evening, and will finish in a few of hours from now. But we have a number of very important – and, I would say, urgent – issues to tackle. And I think that we have already made some concrete progress, with one more important meeting to come.

The the main topic today, is Afghanistan.

We have still to meet with our ISAF, Afghan, UN and EU Partners, so I do not want to prejudge those discussions. But I can tell you that from the meeting we have just had amongst the NATO Defence Ministers, there was a general shared view on three points.

First: the only way to ensure that Afghanistan does not become once again a safe haven for terrorism is if it is made strong enough to resist the insurgency as well. The Taliban hosted Al-Qaida in the past. Extreme elements of the Taliban could well do so in the future. In Afghanistan, you cannot separate counter-terrorism from counter-insurgency.

What does that mean? It means that the international community has to invest in strengthening Afghan capacity to fight their own fight – to make it impossible for terrorism to flourish once again in Afghanistan, because Afghanistan has become an inhospitable environment for terrorists.

Which brings me to the second point on which there was a general shared view: the need to invest in transition.

I am confident that, today, Ministers will approve what we call a Strategic Concept for Phase 4 of our Operational Plan. Which means, in celar language, they agreed that we need to start thinking about, and planning towards, progressively handing over lead security responsibility to the Afghan Army and Afghan Police.

Now, let me be clear. We have not agreed to start handing over the lead. The conditions are not yet right. The Afghan Security Forces are not yet strong enough. And I must also stress that transition, when it happens, doesn’t mean NATO forces leave. It means they go into a supporting role.

But transition will happen, district by district, when conditions are right. And it should. We cannot and should not be in the lead in Afghanistan forever. No one wants that. But what we’ve agreed today allows the military to scope out

what needs to be done to get us closer to the point where transition can begin.

But this won’t happen just because of a good plan. It will also need resources – people and money.

We have set up a NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan, which will beef up our training of the Afghan army and police. I made it very clear to Ministers that this cannot be done for free. We will need more training teams, and money to sustain the growing Afghan forces.

I know some people are frustrated when they hear requests for even more resources. I understand that. But I think it is a very simple calculation. It costs about 50 times more to support a NATO soldier in Afghanistan than it costs to support an Afghan soldier. So it makes sense financially. It also makes sense politically. Investing in Afghan capacity now means being able to do less later. And we all want that, the Afghans first and foremost. Our mission will end when the Afghans are able to take responsibility of their own country.

But transition cannot be only military. It must be across the board. Making Afghanistan strong enough to resist terrorism means more than just a strong army and police force. It means having a Government in which the people trust, to which they are loyal. That is how to suck the oxygen away from the insurgency.

This brings me to the third point around which there was a general shared view around the table, with regard to Afghanistan: the need to demand more from the new Government in Afghanistan than we saw from the last one.

NATO will play its full part to help secure the run-off election. We have no view on whom the Afghan people should elect. But the Government that emerges from this process must be credible in the eyes of the people of the country – which means that the lessons of the last round should be learned, and the standard must be higher.

Whoever wins, they must take active, visible steps to show that they are cleaning up corruption. Improving efficiency. And delivering services to their own people effectively. We will do our part to support that. But considering what we are investing in Afghanistan, we also have the right to insist on it.

That was Afghanistan – and, as I say, we will continue those discussions in a moment, with all our Partners. But Ministers have also discussed two other important issues: missile defence, and military transformation.

On missile defence, Secretary Gates kicked off the discussion with a short briefing on the new US approach to European missile defence.

Ministers welcomed the fact the new US approach puts European missile defence more in a NATO context. That is good for the Alliance. It is good for solidarity. And to my mind, it is important for the defence of Europe that we are talking about rolling out a system within a couple of years that can provide European and North American citizens defence against a real and growing missile threat.

I think NATO Foreign Ministers will look to take this forward in December. And I hope that, by our Lisbon Summit next fall, we can agree to make European missile defence fully a NATO mission.

Third and final issue: military transformation.

I am going to skip all the technical language and abstract formulae. To me, the discussion on transformation is very simple: we need more capability for the money we spend on defence. And we are not doing well enough.

I am fully aware that financial belts are very tight these days. To me, that is all the more reason to be imaginative, in terms of pooling money, sharing assets like planes or helicopters, increasing efficiency.

Is this wishful thinking? Not at all. Let me give you a couple of examples.

  • We now have a small fleet of C-17s, jointly purchased by NATO Allies and Partners. And they have already flown missions to Afghanistan.
  • NATO members have also agreed to move forward in buying an air-to ground surveillance system together, sharing the costs and technology.
  • And today, eight Allies will sign a Declaration of Intent to join forces to provide HIP (Russian MI) Helicopters for NATO and other missions.

So these examples show that it can be done. And I encouraged Ministers to think hard about where we can make savings; where we can improve the expeditionary capability of our forces; and where we can do more together. I’ve also appointed a high-level group to take this forward.

So, all in all, I think it has been a successful meeting so far – with an important part still to come.


Questions & answers

Q: (Inaudible...) El País. Mr. Secretary General, in relation with missile defence, what is the role that Russia is supposed to play? Because I understand that this thing has already been discussed and apparently people are agreeing in giving more role to Russia. Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (Secretary General of NATO): Several Ministers pointed to the importance of engaging Russia in this process. And let me remind you that already at the NATO Summit in Strasbourg-Kehl we made the declaration that we should explore further the possibilities to integrate the Russian missile defence system into our system.

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): The next question is there.

Q: Lorne Cook from AFP. Can you tell me in terms of the McChrystal report how many nations were fully or substantially behind the report and its recommendations? And specifically on the recommendations from General McChrystal and from General Formica, on building the forces up to the 400,000 figure you're going to need a lot of trainers. Is there support for that idea?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: We didn't discuss exact figures today. Of course, we have taken note of the recommendations from General McChrystal, also as far as resources are concerned, but the purpose of today's meeting was not to make any decision on figures. So we have not discussed the exact figures. What we did today was to discuss McChrystal's overall assessment, his overall approach and I have noted a broad support for all Ministers of this overall counterinsurgency approach. But let me stress, without discussing the resource implications of these recommendations.

Q: Bari Hakim for Deutsche Welle, Afghan Service, Pashto and Dari Services. We will translate your comments in Pashto and Dari and send it to Afghanistan in Pashto and Dari.

My question is, you say that there'll be no separation between counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. That means more engagement of NATO forces and war and armed actions against the insurgency. That cause also civilian casualties, as the past shows. What steps should be taken to avoid civilian casualties in Afghanistan?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: We have already taken a lot of steps to reduce the number of civilian casualties. And actually, the number of civilian casualties has decreased significantly. We strongly regret whenever we see civilian casualties. We are in Afghanistan to protect the Afghan people. We'll do our utmost to avoid civilian casualties and to that end the commanders on the ground have introduced new strategies. So far they have been successful.

In addition to that, let me remind you that the enemies of Afghanistan do not take care of protection of civilians to the same degree. Actually the enemies of Afghanistan are responsible for the majority, the huge majority of civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

Q: Mr. Secretary General, (inaudible) from German Television. Have you reminded your colleagues...

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Could you speak a bit louder?

Q: Yes, sure. Have you reminded your colleagues of the caveats, that you would like to reduce the caveats in Afghanistan, the restrictions of the troops? This is my first question. And the second one would be, if Afghanistan succeeds in building up the troops and the soldiers and the policemen up to 400,000 can NATO leave the country then or start to leave the country?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First, about the caveats. Yes, I have raised this question and so did, of course, the military representatives in the meeting, because for their operation in Afghanistan it is essential to have a maximum of flexibility. And several Ministers also stressed the importance of more flexibility.

Obviously we did not make any decision on that today and at the end of the day it's also a national decision, but I think this aspect will be taken into consideration in all allied nations as to how we can ensure a stronger flexibility.

And then your second question?

Q: (Inaudible...).

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, well, as I said before, we did not discuss exact numbers, but as I said in my introduction today, there is a broad agreement that the long-term goal is to hand over responsibility to the Afghans themselves, across the board, from security to development. And security-wise it means to develop the capacity of the Afghan Security Force.

So without speaking about concrete numbers we have to realize that our training mission in Afghanistan must be stepped up in the coming years if we are to achieve our goal, the transition to Afghan lead. And this is the reason why I have also stated clearly today that we will need more trainers and also more funds to sustain an increased number of Afghan Security Forces.

Q: (Inaudible...). I would like to ask you whether you weren't surprised, or some kind of embarrassed by yesterday's comments of Slovak Prime Minister Fico, that he said that he would never agree with the deployment of parts of missile defence shield in Slovakia?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: About the missile defence?

Q: Yes.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I have taken note of the Prime Minister's remarks, of course, but it is still a bit hypothetical, this question, because I'm not aware of… that any request has been forwarded to Slovakia, or for that sake, any other country. What I have noted from today's meeting is a general broad support of the new U.S. approach, because it will allow all allies to participate, and it will protect all allies, including Slovakia. And then let's see along the road what happens.

Q: Jim Neuger from Bloomberg. Were there any commitment or, because this was an informal meeting, any indications of commitments to boost the investment in Afghan troop training for the training mission? And you pointed out that the Alliance wants to see a credible government in Afghanistan – do you have any concern that some governments may be using the protracted Afghan electoral process as an excuse for not facing up to the hard choices that they'll have to make on potentially sending more troops?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Unfortunately, I really couldn't hear. The acoustics prevented me from hearing the essence of your question. So if you would please repeat? And please speak loudly.

Q: Okay. Can you hear me now?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes. So far so good!


Q: On the training mission were there any commitments, or because this meeting was informal, any indications of commitments for the training of Afghan forces? And because the Alliance is very keen to see a credible government in Afghanistan, do you have any concern that some allies may be using the protracted Afghan electoral process as an excuse for not facing up to the difficult choices they will soon have to make about troop levels?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Firstly, no. The purpose of today's meeting was not to make commitments to our training missions. A force generation conference will take place at the later stage, and that will, of course, be decisive. What we did today was to discuss generally this concept of training and educating Afghan soldiers and police, and there is a broad support of that.

So based on that, I will, of course, expect allies to provide the necessary resources to ensure that our training mission will be fully equipped and get off and running.

Your next question concerns the electoral process. First of all, let me stress the importance of a credible electoral process. We will do our utmost to take care of the security aspects. Actually, we did so quite successful in the first round of elections. From a security point of view they went quite successfully, taking into consideration that 90 percent of the polling stations actually opened. Only three percent were directly attacked. So from a security point of view the elections conducted in the first round were a success.

And we are strongly committed to repeat that in the run-up to the second round of elections. And I have not heard any voice about reduced commitment due to the electoral process or the outcome of the elections. On the contrary what I have heard during our meetings is a continued strong commitment from all allies.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Time for two questions. There, and right behind you.

Q: Mr. Secretary General, Nick Giles from the BBC. I'm struggling a little bit with your terminology in terms of the consensus, or otherwise, around the table. You talk about broad support for General McChrystal's overall strategy, and a general shared view. Could you... does that mean that everybody around the table accepted that view and vision, or were there people who dissented from it or didn't express a view? Could you just give me a little bit more detail on what that actually means in terms of support?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I always try to explain myself in very clear and exact language and what I have said actually reflects the facts from the meeting that there is the support of this counterinsurgency strategy, which means that Ministers agreeing that it does not solve the problems in Afghanistan just to hunt down and kill individual terrorists. What we need is a much broader strategy which stabilizes the whole Afghan society. And this is the essence in the recommendations presented by General McChrystal, that we should reinforce the interaction between our military efforts and civil reconstruction and development.

Which also leads me to a very important point, namely, that we have to look closer into how we can improve the organization of and coordination of the efforts in the area of civilian reconstruction and development. We're operating with a number of actors within the international community. And obviously ISAF and NATO do not have the capacity internally to conduct this civilian process. We have to cooperate with the UN, with the European Union, with other actors on the international scene. And to that end we need an improved coordination.

So this is the essence of our discussion today. And the purpose was not to discuss exact figures, though I, of course, know very well that you would like decisions today on that very interesting question, but strategy first, troop numbers then.

JAMES APPATHURAI: The last question is at the back.

Q: (Inaudible) Public Broadcasting, (inaudible...). So next month Georgian forces are going to Afghanistan first time. How do you think, how important is Georgia's contribution to this operation? And what do you think about a new election plan? How big is progress in this program for Georgia? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, we appreciate very much the Georgian commitment, the Georgian contribution. It testifies to Georgia's strong engagement with our Alliance. That's a very important signal. Of course, it's also a positive step within the framework of the NATO-Georgia cooperation. And in addition to that, we welcome all contributions to our mission in Afghanistan because also from a military point of view we need these contributions.

So the Georgian decision is highly appreciated. We welcome that.

JAMES APPATHURAI: Thank you. That's all we have time. Secretary Gates will be, I think, coming next.