by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and United Kingdom Foreign Secretary David Miliband
JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): Ladies and gentlemen, the Secretary General and the Foreign Secretary will each make brief opening statements and then we'll have time for some questions.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (Secretary General of NATO): First of all, let me thank the British people through the Foreign Secretary for the enormous contribution of U.K. forces on the ground in Helmand. Let me also offer my condolences for the losses they have suffered, including the two soldiers lost over the past few days.
The sacrifice being made by so many soldiers from so many countries is a very heavy price to pay, but the importance of this mission is inescapable. We cannot permit Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorism, nor to destabilize Pakistan or the region. The price of doing so would be far higher.
We have extensively discussed Thursday's conference in London. Let me congratulate David Miliband for all the work he has done to prepare it, because the conference cannot just be a talk show. It has to deliver results. And I hope to see agreement in London on a way forward for transition to Afghan leads in security.
As to when it will end, I think it is too early to say, but as to when it should begin, my answer is simple - this year.
President Karzai will also lay out clear plans to grow the Afghan Forces, reach out to the Taliban, and improve the delivery of services to the Afghan people. All of these Afghan initiatives are necessary and welcome and all of this must, and I hope will, get concrete support from the international community.
The bottom line is this: 2010 is a very important year for this mission. The Afghan people and publics in all our countries need to see results. The NATO operation is already helping to improve security in critical areas such as Helmand, not least because of substantially more forces. But it must be a comprehensive approach with better governance, better delivery of services and a clear political roadmap, and I believe the conference in London will help move us forward and substantially in these important areas, all of which is already helping to create new momentum in this mission.
Let me finally note the strong Afghan support we have seen in the polls for international forces and for their own government, and their rejection of the Taliban. In a counter insurgency this is not a side issue. It is central. And we should take real encouragement from that. This mission can and will succeed and 2010 will be a critical year in making that happen and in that context the London conference is of crucial importance.
DAVID MILIBAND (United Kingdom Foreign Secretary): Well, Secretary General, thank you very much for inviting me here today for final discussions in preparation for the London conference. It's important that I express my deep condolences to the soldiers from four countries who have grievously lost their lives over the last few days, and of course, two British soldiers as well. I'm grateful to you for your words.
We're grateful, too, for the leadership that you're showing in NATO, the very strong leadership of this organization at a critical time in its development.
I think it's clear that we are at a decisive moment in the Afghan campaign a new afghan government is being formed, a new military strategy is being put into practice, and the international community is being rallied on the civilian, as well as the military, front for a further attempt to establish a degree of stability and security in Afghanistan with all the consequences that you rightly highlight.
The stakes are very high indeed, not just for our service men and women, but also for stability in South Asia and the credibility of the institutions that have provided the political and security ballast for Europe over the last 50 or 60 years.
I've just come from a meeting of European Foreign Ministers where we had an extensive discussion of the Afghan campaign and it's very, very good to hear that the increased civilian efforts that's being mobilized is being matched on the military side by the sort of preparations for transition to Afghan security leadership that you and I have discussed and that you have talked about today.
We'll meet on Thursday with representatives from 65 countries, plus international organization. We will work together on a set of concrete outcomes, but we will also fashion a sense of common purpose, a clear plan with a clear consensus about how to put it into practice, and real confidence about the contract that has been established, not just between ourselves, but between ourselves and the Afghan government and between the Afghan government and the Afghan people. We know we're at a decisive moment in the campaign and I thank you for the leadership that you're offering.
JAMES APPATHURAI: Questions. There's two over there.
Q: Yes, David Brunnstrom from Reuters for the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary General.
Can you tell us if you share the concerns that have been expressed by human rights groups about General Dostum's reappointment as the Chief of staff of the Afghan Army. I mean, doesn't this really go against all efforts that are being made, and all the talk that's being talked about the need to improve governance in Afghanistan?
DAVID MILIBAND: Well, at a time when NATO under the command of General McChrystal have put protection of the population at the absolute heart of the military strategy of the international forces. It's essential that is matched on the Afghan front... on the Afghan side.
I'll be seeing President Karzai tomorrow in Istanbul where the Turkish government are gathering a range of neighbours and regional powers for a discussion before the London conference. I'll follow up the discussion that I had with him last weekend in Kabul about the composition of his government.
What's obviously essential is that the loyalty of the Afghan people to their own government is held. The recent BBC/ABC poll showed very strongly that the Afghan people don't want to go back to Taliban misrule, but they do expect improvements in governance from all parts of the Afghan state and that's something that needs to be prosecuted with real drive and determination by all Ministers in the government.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: The Afghan government has committed itself to better governance, and I take it for granted that this includes full respect for human rights.
Q: Ben Nimmo from the German Press Agency, DPA. Again, for both gentlemen, on the question of reconciliation with the Taliban, specifically do you support the idea of a reconciliation fund, and what kind of proportion of the militants are you actually looking at as potentially rehabilitable, if that's a word?
DAVID MILIBAND: Well the drive for reintegration, which I think is the term that's used for the low to mid-level fighters, is very, very important. It's one that we strongly support. And it's one which does need a fund to back it up. That's one of the issues that we're discussing in the international community and with the Afghan government, and I hope that we're going to be in a position to make progress on Thursday during the London conference.
Governance of that fund will also be very important because it's our very strong belief and General Petraeus and others have spoken to this, that a good 70 to 80 percent of the insurgency has been more or less rented by the Taliban. These are people who belong in their communities, defending their communities, not attacking their communities.
It's not our job to rent them back. That's not the way reintegration works. But we do believe that there needs to be political space in the Afghan political system for larger numbers of people who are currently fighting against their government. There also needs to be property security in their communities and there needs to be a proper economic opportunity.
For the mid to high level commanders of the insurgency, where so-called reconciliation has a bigger role to play, we support President Karzai's determination to hold a loya jirga that would bring together all those willing to live within Afghanistan's constitution and break their links with al-Qaeda. Those are the red lines that are very important for any reconciliation package and I think they are widely understood. But I think it's very significant, the interview that General McChrystal did in the Financial Times—sorry to give a plug to one particular news outlet—but the interview that General McChrystal did in the Financial Times is very significant today, because the military are first to say that there is not a military solution to a counter insurgency. Military effect and civilian effect are two vital components of a political settlement and that's what needs to be found.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I fully agree with the Secretary. I'm in favour of a reconciliation and reintegration process, provided that it is led by the Afghan government and provided that the groups involved will accept and abide by the Afghan constitution, including respect human rights.
JAMES APPATHURAI: I'm afraid that's what we have time for.
DAVID MILIBAND: Thank you very much.