Final press conference

by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen following the formal meetings of NATO Defence Ministers

  • 11 Jun. 2010
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  • Last updated: 14 Jun. 2010 12:03

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for coming. Considering that I am competing with the opening ceremonies of the World Cup, let me say I really respect your commitment to journalism.

The main item this morning was the meeting on Afghanistan, where General McChrystal briefed us on the progress of operations.

His assessment was very straightforward. The new strategy is working. It is delivering the intended results. But the Taliban are resisting every step of the way. So the going is tough, for our soldiers and for the Afghan people.

What General McChrystal heard from all 47 nations around the table was equally straightforward: ISAF will stay as long as it takes to finish the job. Because it is still true that an unstable Afghanistan, where terrorism can find safe haven, is a menace to us all. And because a stable Afghanistan means a safer world.

Our focus today was on two issues: transition, and training.

Afghanistan belongs to the Afghans. Transition to Afghan lead is not only desirable, it is inevitable. What we discussed today was how to ensure it happens in the right way.

We will agree in the coming weeks with the Afghan Government on the detailed road map for transition. But three fundamental elements are already clear.

  • First, transition does not mean withdrawal of our forces. It means shifting towards supporting Afghan forces, and long-term training.
  • Second, the military and civilian conditions have to be in place for transition to be irreversible.
  • And third, we want those conditions to be in place as soon as possible.

Which brings me to training.

We have had real success in our training effort. We established the NATO Training Mission about six months ago. 2300 trainers are requested. Many of them are already provided. We still need about 450, and I pushed Ministers very hard to dig deeper to find them.

Training is an investment in transition. The more training we do, the sooner transition comes. It is a very simple calculation, and very smart investment.

One look at the battlefield makes that very clear. Nine years ago, there was no Afghan Army. Today, there are over 130,000 Afghan soldiers on the ground and in the fight. There are about 100.000 Afghan Police. That is a real success, and as they get ever-better at defending their country, we will be able to take on a supporting role.

Based on today’s discussion, I’m sure Ministers understand that full well, and I’m confident that we will see more trainers soon.

This morning, we met the Georgian Defence Minister in the NATO Georgia Council. You will not be surprised that he heard a strong message of support for Georgia’s territorial integrity from all Allies. They thanked Georgia for the very strong contribution to the ISAF mission. And they reiterated that NATO’s Door remains open to Georgia, when it meets the standards.

But of course, that day is not yet here. There is a long road of reform still to follow. The recent elections were an encouraging sign, and NATO will continue to support Georgia’s reforms.

That’s what I wanted to update you on. Now I’m happy to take your questions.


Q: Secretary General, Nick Childs from BBC News. On transition, you said in Tallinn, I think, that you hoped the transition process would begin at the end of this year. Do you think that will happen now given that things on the ground seem to be moving more slowly, perhaps, than you anticipated?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (Secretary General of NATO): I still think it is a realistic goal that the transition process can start by the end of this year. I have continuously stressed that, of course, it is a condition-based process and not a calendar-driven process. So the transition process can start by the end of this year provided that the conditions permit a gradual transfer of lead responsibility to the Afghans.

And that's exactly my point. We have to work hard from now on to make sure that the conditions are really met.

Q: Jim Neuger, from Bloomberg. I'm right here. Just a question about the opening of the supply route to Afghanistan through Russia and Central Asia. How quickly will this route be built up and is the goal to shift the majority or a significant proportion of supplies to that route to avoid the more dangerous route coming through Pakistan?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, obviously I cannot go into details about our operational and logistical decisions, but we will take advantage of all transport routes available, as soon as possible.

Q: Ben Nimmo from the German Press Agency, DPA. Secretary General, two questions: You said on the question of trainers you pushed Ministers very hard. How did Ministers respond? Did they promise more trainers? Did they promise to think about it? What do you expect there?

And on the Afghan army and police you've told us about the quantity of troops that have been trained, you haven't mentioned their quality, so how would you rate the quality of the Afghan forces? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I think the two questions are interlinked. An expansion of the capacity, improvement of the capacity of the Afghan Security Forces is, of course, not only a question about quantity, it's also a question about quality. But quality is also about training and education. So I think it's two sides of the same subject.

I got a positive response. Ministers agree that training is key to fulfil our goal of starting a transition process. And the force generation is also a process. Today we have had the political discussion. Now our military authorities will renew their requests and initiate contacts with individual allies and partners. And as I said in my introduction, I am confident that we will see pledges in the coming weeks and months so that we can further expand the capacity of our training mission.

Q: Radio Free Europe. The situation on the ground shows that the Afghan Police is very much corrupt and the Afghan Army is not really equipped well. How can you fight corruption in the few coming months in the Afghan Police forces and how can you equip the Afghan Army in just a few months? Is there any specific budget for increasing the equipment for the Afghan Army or fighting corruption in police?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me say that I think the Afghan Army is doing a great job. Afghan soldiers are good fighters and of course it is also part of the expansion of their capacity that we gradually build up their military equipment and that's, of course, also part of our strategy.

As far as the fight against corruption is concerned, it is primarily a challenge for the Afghan government. President Karzai and the government have committed themselves to a strengthened fight against corruption and I feel confident that the government, the Afghan government, will do its utmost to fight corruption. I fully agree that it is key to establish confidence in government authorities in Afghanistan.

Q: Thomas Lauritzen from the Danish Newspaper Politiken. In an interview with my paper today General McCrystal confirms the American intention of starting a drawback of some troops in July next year. And he says that he expects other allied countries to have similar plans and that that is realistic. Do you share that assessment? And do you also expect other allied states to start drawing back troops next year?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Actually this statement is not a new statement or a new assessment. It's been clear for quite some time that 2011 will be a year for evaluation of the troop surge. We have decided on a significant troop surge. I find it quite natural that we evaluate the results of this troop surge in 2011.

In this interview, as well on other occasions, General McCrystal has stressed that the transition to Afghan lead will be a condition-based process. It will not be calendar driven. So if we are in a position to gradually change the role of ISAF troops during 2011 it will be because conditions permit. It will be because the capacity of the Afghan security forces has been so well developed that the Afghan Army and the Afghan Police can take on lead responsibility.

So it boils down to the question about training and educating Afghan soldiers and Afghan Police if we succeed in that. Then we can also gradually transfer lead responsibility to the Afghans. That's what McCrystal has stated once again, and now also in your newspaper.

Q: Georgian Public Broadcasting. Mr. Secretary General, you said that Georgia still needs reforms. How can Alliance assist the country in this process, and what can... what reforms must take Georgia, for example, in the new future.

And the second question about Lisbon Summit. What will be the Lisbon message for those countries which want to be members?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Firstly, speaking about reforms, in Georgia, I think focus should be on reforms of the defence and security sector, but I have to add that within the NATO-Georgia Commission we discuss a much broader reform agenda. We discuss, of course, defence and security sector reforms, but we go beyond that. We discuss reforms of the democratic system of the judiciary. We discuss all aspects of reforms necessary to prepare a country for a possible future membership of NATO.

As regards the Lisbon Summit, I think the most important message for countries with membership aspirations, will be that NATO's door remains open. Our open door policy is based on the fundamental principle that each individual country has a right to decide on its Alliance affiliation itself. It is as simple as that. And in the NATO Treaty Article 10 it is stated that the Alliance may invite any democratic European country that is in a position to further the principles of NATO. We may invite any such country to join the alliance.

So these are the basic principles and I think we ill reiterate them at the Lisbon Summit.

Q: Secretary General, Craig Whitlock with the Washington Post. I want a follow-up question on trainers, please. You've been asking for these 450 trainers for several months now without a whole lot to show for it. Why have NATO members been so unwilling to provide these trainers if they're key to the strategy in Afghanistan, and aren't you getting frustrated at this point?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: But actually speaking, I think, we're here faced with what I would call a more basic problem, because it's not lack of will. It's not lack of will, in my opinion. It is much more a lack of capacity, because it's a quite new thing for NATO allies to engage in such training missions.

We established the training mission six months ago and to be a trainer requires some specific skills. So I think it's a gradual process. We have to adapt our Alliance to this new task to train and educate local forces in a country like Afghanistan.

And I think we will deal with this aspect in the new Strategic Concept. Many allies have raised this as an issue for discussion because taking into consideration the need for training and education of local forces it is a real question whether we should have an established capacity within the Alliance to engage in such training activities. I think that's, in my opinion, one of the lessons learned from our mission in Afghanistan.

So in conclusion, it's not lack of will, it is in the short term a lack of capacity. We work hard to develop that capacity and in the longer term perspective I think it might lead to the conclusion that we need this training capacity as one of the NATO capabilities.

JAMES APPATHURAI (NATO Spokesman): The last question is here.

Q: Radio Free Europe, Mashaal Radio. The reconciliation process in Pakistan is under way. How do you see the role of Afghanistan and the other neighbouring countries?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Pakistan can play a crucial role and plays a crucial role in our endeavours to improve the security situation in Afghanistan. And to be very direct about it, we cannot solve the problems in Afghanistan without a positive and strong engagement of Pakistan. And let me take this opportunity to commend the Pakistani government and the Pakistani military for their determined fight against extremism and terrorism in the border region.

I would very much like to see the cooperation with Pakistan further developed in the coming years. We have already engaged in an intensive high-level political dialogue. I would also like to see an intensified military-to-military cooperation based on demands from Pakistan, obviously.

But in conclusion, we need a strong partnership and a strong cooperation with Pakistan to resolve the problems in Afghanistan.

JAMES APPATHURAI: That's all we have time for, Secretary General.