Press conference by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen

at the NATO Defence Ministerial Meeting in Istanbul

  • 05 Feb. 2010
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  • Last updated: 05 Feb. 2010 20:57

Press conference by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

Let me first thank the Turkish Government for hosting us. It is a proof of the dedication of the Defence Ministers that they spent so much time in the conference room, working hard, rather than out visiting this beautiful city. And we got results.

It has been a very positive meeting. Ministers have agreed measures to ensure that our books are balanced. That we have balance between resources and requirements, balance between revenue and expenditures.

We will now focus on implementing the package. And that includes doing more together – an issue which we discussed in depth.

We’ve decided to focus on three priorities:

  • First: Countering improvised explosive devices, which are the biggest killers of our soldiers. This is a real priority for us. General Abrial, our Supreme Commander for Transformation, presented his proposals for how we could improve our techniques, training and technologies, to better protect our young men and women.
    At the meeting, Secretary Gates announced a strengthened cooperation with other allies and partners in countering improvised explosive devices. I welcome Secretary Gates’ offer to Allies of a package of counter-IED measures that will help protect all ISAF soldiers against this menace. The US offer includes expanded access to intelligence, training for all ISAF countries on techniques and technologies, loan or transfer of counter IED equipment such as jammers, detection kits, robotic equipment and also mine- resistant armoured vehicles, sold, loaned or donated to any ISAF country. It is a very important step.
  • Second: improving medical care for our soldiers, by making sure they get the best support possible. This is a priority.
  • And third, fielding more mission-capable helicopters, including by tying together countries that have the helicopters, with those that have the money for modernisation and deployment, with training for personnel.

Which brings me to what we are, actually, doing on the ground right now. And of course, that begins with Afghanistan.

Last week’s meeting in London was very successful.

  • It demonstrated unity across the international community to stay the course.
  • Clear plans were set out to improve governance and strengthen the Afghan Government.
  • Afghan plans for reconciliation and reintegration got support, including in terms of money.
  • And there was a strong consensus that transition to Afghan lead in security should start this year, where and when conditions allow.

What comes now is implementation. And when it comes to NATO, that means getting our training mission fully staffed.

Right now, we have over 60 training teams for the army, and over 100 for the police. But we will need more. A lot more. Today, I encouraged the 44 ISAF nations to dig deep and look at what they can do to staff the training mission, either from within current contributions or, if necessary, by sending more.

But before your write the story that NATO continues to ask for more, let me also say this. The ISAF countries have now pledged just about the 40,000 forces that General McChrystal said he needed for this operation. We have, in general, the combat forces we need. That is a real achievement. It also testifies to NATO solidarity, commitment or capability.

And in the coming days, you will see a demonstration of that capability in a series of operations, led by the Afghans and supported by NATO, in Central Helmand

We also had an extensive discussion on transition.

Many of the mechanics are being worked on as we speak. But from the discussion today, I believe the principles are now clear.

  • Transition will be based on conditions, not calendars.
  • Those conditions will be both political and military; and
  • Of course, all this will be done in close consultation with the Afghan government and international stakeholders.

Those were the key points on Afghanistan. Let me mention, finally, this morning’s discussion on Kosovo.

KFOR has just now completed the first stage in its restructuring and downsizing, to around 10,000 troops. And we can see that the decision to move to a deterrence posture was the right one.

The security challenges in Kosovo are generally no longer military ones. That is a major success for Kosovo, for the region and for the international community, including NATO. Kosovo is really a success story.

No decision was taken the next stage in KFOR’s restructuring. We will wait until our military commanders recommend that before moving forward.

So, a productive meeting. Let me once again thank our Turkish hosts, and open the floor to questions.

Q: I'll be asking in English. I'm (inaudible...) from (inaudible) newspaper. I have two simple questions, quickly. The first one is you mentioned today that the budget is... you have a deal on the budget of the NATO. How are the countries going to contribute to this? Will it be according to their contribution to ISAF or coming willingness from them? And my second question is, there were rumours that there will be a Turkish assistant to you as the Secretary General, and did you ever discuss this with our President Gul during your meeting?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (Secretary General of NATO): The last question once again?

Q: The last question is, your AD... your deputy was going to be maybe Turkish and Huseyin Dirioz was in the rumours and did you have this discussion with President Gul? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First on resources, we have not discussed exact figures at this meeting. We have discussed the principles, a package, which involves on the one hand savings and structural reforms to make sure that we spend our money wisely and efficiently. And on the other hand also the need for increased funds. So it's a balanced package, more money, but also savings. So we use both instruments to ensure that we will have balance on our budget.

So my answer to your question is, we did not discuss exact figures. Decisions on that will be taken in some weeks time. Concerning staff at the Headquarters in Brussels, I have had general talks both with Minister of Defence and also with the President concerning our staff policies. I have confirmed that it is a basic principle for me that all member states within NATO should be fairly and proportionately represented in our staff.

Q: Mr. Rasmussen, Kai Niklasch from German Television. How big is the deficit NATO had and are there any projects that you have to postpone now that you have solved the problem? And another question to Afghanistan. You're now going forward into the south. How many soldiers will there be involved and how many of the 40,000 new soldiers you now have in Afghanistan will be involved in educating and training the Afghans?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, first of all, I do not exclude the possibility that certain projects will be postponed as a result of the package we have agreed on. Based on the principles that the Ministers have now decided, we will, in the NAC, in the North Atlantic Council, discuss how this can be implemented in details and I do believe that a part of that might be to postpone certain projects. But today I'm not in a position to make more precise announcements concerning possible postponements.

Concerning our operations in Afghanistan, I think you will understand that I cannot go into too many details for strategic reasons, and security reasons. But we will, of course, make sure that our operations are appropriately equipped and staffed so that the operations in the Helmand province will be a success. It's about demonstrating to the Afghan people that they will now see new momentum, they will see progress, we will succeed in Afghanistan.

Q: Thank you. Peter Spiegel with the Wall Street Journal. In your opening remarks you mentioned both the U.S. effort, or offer for more assistance on the IED technology, and also the need for additional trainers. I wonder if one may assist you in the other? Is there any sense that because there'll be more support for force protection for many allies that they may be more willing to provide more troops for Afghanistan? Could that assist you in your effort to get more troops for the battle?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Would you please repeat the last part of it?

Q: The issue is many... all countries are concerned about force protection. The IED assistance may reassure some countries that they will have additional force protection when they deploy. Do you believe that offer of assistance will help you in your case to get more troops for the training mission?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I think so. I hope so. But I think our efforts to counter IEDs are important anyway because it is, as I said, the main killer of soldiers. So we owe it to our people in the field that we do our utmost to ensure that we prevent the use of IEDs and counter the use of IEDs in the most efficient manner.

But, of course, it will, if we succeed, also contribute to an improvement of the overall security for our soldiers. Let me add to this that – and it's also in connection with the question I was asked before, I forgot to answer a part of it concerning trainers – according to our estimates we still need 1,300 institutional trainers, that is trainers in training schools. I mention this because they will conduct their activities in a very safe environment so it is possible for countries to contribute trainers who can conduct their work without running too high a risk.

In addition to that, we need 21 army training teams, and 119 police training teams, and at today's meeting I have urged allies to contribute further to our training mission. I have also had bilateral meetings in which I have conveyed this clear message.

Q: (Inaudible...) TV Georgia. Last week Georgian President proposed to use the territory of country of Georgia for better transportation of goods and materials to Afghanistan – I mean, the airfields and sea ports. Is NATO considering this idea, or will NATO consider this idea to use the territory of Georgia more actively?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: We consider positively all offers to facilitate our mission in Afghanistan. We also appreciate very much the significant troop contributions from Georgia, and similarly we appreciate other contributions that can support our mission in Afghanistan. So we will, of course, look closer into these offers.

Q: I have a question. I'm from Radio Free Europe, Radio Afghanistan. Recently U.S. drone attacks (inaudible) on tribal area inside Pakistan. How can NATO take part in operation against insurgents inside Pakistan?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I have to say that NATO's and ISAF's mandate covers Afghanistan. And only Afghanistan. So NATO is not engaged in operations that go beyond our mandate.

Q: Secretary General, I’m Ling from China Central Television. In your... I have two questions. First is, in your opening statement this morning you mentioned there are 36 ISAF-contributing countries to the mission in Afghanistan. But why earlier this week in Brussels in your monthly briefing you mentioned that 40 countries, so whether this change means some country change their mind?

The second is, even if this new personnel will be in position, is there any exact date or some plan for when they can be in the position by this ministerial level meeting? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, I have to stress that no country has withdrawn their pledges. On the contrary they have reaffirmed their strong commitment. I just want to avoid any double-counting, so this is the reason why we stick to the figure 36, but the main point is, that it adds up to nearly 40,000 additional troops, which is a great success, pretty close to what General McChrystal had recommended, and besides the fact that we have reached more or less the level we wanted, it's also of utmost importance that so many allies and partners have contributed, because it testifies to Alliance solidarity and commitment. So I am really happy that we succeeded to get troop pledges from so many countries.

Q: CNN Turk (name inaudible...). If you consider this a shortfall... in Afghanistan, I mean, shortfalls of trainers in Afghanistan, do you feel, believe that... do you still be optimistic 2011 is the last call for the withdrawal from Afghanistan?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me stress that no one, no one has announced that 2011 should be the year for withdrawal from Afghanistan. I have to stress that. On the contrary, we have repeatedly stated that we will stay in Afghanistan as long as it takes to finish our job. And honestly speaking, I don't think we have finished our job by 2011.

But what we have also said is that 2011 would be the year for a comprehensive evaluation of our mission in Afghanistan. And it's quite natural, because we have now decided on a significant troop surge. In addition to that the international community has committed itself to strengthen civilian efforts. So we have to ensure steady progress. And as a part of that we will evaluate the whole strategy, the whole mission, by mid-2011. But it is not an exit strategy. It is a transition strategy, where we gradually hand over responsibility to the Afghans as we develop their capacity by training and educating Afghan soldiers and Afghan police.

Hopefully we will be in a situation by 2011 where we can gradually change our military presence. Hopefully we can move some of our troops in a more supporting role where they can assist the Afghan Security Forces and the Afghan Security Forces will be in the lead.

So, in conclusion, and a direct answer to your question, yes, I am indeed optimistic. No reason to hide that 2009 has been an extremely difficult year. We have, unfortunately, taken too many casualties. We have been through a lengthy and complicated electoral process. But now this is history. Now we look forward and we have during the last couple of months taken a number of very important decisions, including a significant troop surge, a significant increase in the number of Afghan Security Forces, laid down a clear strategy for a gradual transition to Afghan lead, and committed... the international community has committed itself to strengthened civilian efforts.

All this, all this will lead to new momentum and new progress in 2010. So, yes, I am an optimist.

Thank you.