by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen following the meeting of NATO Defence Ministers
Today has been a busy and productive day. We discussed our operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo with all the partner Ministers.
Let me start with Afghanistan. Today, all 50 countries which contribute to the ISAF mission discussed the progress we have made, and the progress we still need to make.
I would have to say that 2011 was clearly a turning point. We saw a decrease in the number of enemy initiated attacks. We started the transition to lead Afghan responsibility for the security. We agreed that the transition to Afghan security lead is on track – and that we will all keep up our efforts, so it stays on track. Our goal is for the Afghan forces to have full responsibility for security across their country by the end of 2014. And that goal stands, for every single one of us.
We agreed that, as the Afghan forces continue to take the lead in more and more areas, the main focus of our mission will also continue to evolve – from combat to training, advice and assistance. And how and when that happens is something we will continue to discuss at the NATO summit in Chicago.
Transition is an evolving process. It is happening in close coordination between NATO, our partners and the Afghan authorities. It depends on the security realities on the ground. And it takes time to complete.
So even after transition has begun across the whole of the country, we will continue to support Afghans to make it happen. That means training. It means assistance. And where necessary, it also means fighting alongside our Afghan partners.
We have a common goal and that goal is clear: a sovereign Afghanistan, in which Afghans are in charge of their own security. But the future of Afghanistan is a matter for the whole international community – and so is the long-term funding of the Afghan forces. Because a secure Afghanistan in a stable region is in all our interests.
We also discussed Kosovo. 2011 was a challenging year for our mission there. But our troops did their job when it mattered the most. They acted firmly, carefully and impartially. And they did so in full accordance with our United Nations mandate.
Across much of Kosovo, the security situation is stable. But the situation is still fragile, and freedom of movement remains limited.
So our goal remains unchanged: a safe and secure environment for all the people in Kosovo, and the complete restoration of freedom of movement.
For that, we need to retain our current KFOR presence. We will reduce it only as the circumstances allow, when the time is right.
It’s clear that that the current situation in Northern Kosovo cannot be solved by military means alone. So we encourage both Belgrade and Pristina to engage at the negotiating table for a long-term solution. Because nobody will benefit from a return to the tensions of the past.
Our discussions yesterday and today have laid the foundation for our Chicago summit. And the good news is that today we also found the way ahead on a practical funding solution for NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance system. This means that a group of Allies will acquire 5 reconnaissance drones. NATO will then maintain and operate them on behalf of all 28 Allies. This will give our commanders the ability to see what is happening on the ground at long range and over periods of time – around the clock, and in any weather.
At our Lisbon Summit in 2010, we agreed that this is a priority. And our recent operation to protect civilians in Libya showed how important such a capability is. Today we are delivering on our commitments. We are demonstrating that our priorities are the right ones and that we are determined to learn the lessons from our operations.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO Secretary General): And with that, I'm ready to take your questions.
OANA LUNGESCU: Please introduce yourselves. Chi è l'editore (?).
Q: (Inaudible) Chi è l'editore (?). You, there is a dialogue going on between Pristina and Belgrade under EU facilitation. But they insist that this is just a technical dialogue. And Kosovo government is saying that no issue of the North should be discussed in this dialogue.
Now, you call for the political dialogue to resolve issue of the North. Is this correct understanding? Or you think that in this dialogue that is only ongoing, they should discuss the North? Or there should be another political process or political negotiations to resolve issues of the North?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: I don't suggest a parallel or another political process. I strongly support the EU concert dialogue. And we shouldn't be surprised that such dialogues very often start with technical questions that are important to get solved. And then gradually such more technical discussions will evolve into a more political dialogue. That’s quite natural based on my experience.
OANA LUNGESCU: Over there.
Q: Secretary General, Geoff Meade from British Forces News. There's so much of our time here and yours is spent on looking at the post-conflict stage of Afghanistan. Can I ask you to share what are your views of who will pay the estimate of $4 billion of supporting Afghan security forces? And how difficult is it going to be to get enthusiasm among donor nations?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me stress that no decision has been made yet as regard the size, the long-term size of the Afghan security forces. And consequently no decision has been made as regards the bill to pay.
Having said that, I think it's a responsibility for the whole of the international community. And actually the international community committed itself to such financing of the Afghan security forces at the recent Bonn conference. So it goes beyond NATO and ISAF and includes other parts of the international community.
Q: Is it going to be difficult to sell ?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: No, actually, it's very easy to make the case that the whole of the international community, it is a very good deal to finance a credible Afghan security force, militarily and politically. Because it's much better in a longer term perspective that the Afghans take responsibility for the security of themselves and economically. Because it's less expensive to finance Afghan security services than to deploy international forces in Afghanistan.
OANA LUNGESCU: Agence France-Presse.
Q: The French Defence Minister said 230 000 would be an appropriate number for long term Afghan force. And also that France, related to the Afghanistan forces, has asked for NATO to come up with a plan to counter the infiltration of Taliban in the Afghan security forces. Was there an agreement on that today? And could you give details on that?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Yes, I'm pleased to inform you that all ISAF partners agreed to task our military authorities to develop a plan to counter... I'd rather say to strengthen countering such infiltration. We have already taken a lot of steps. But in the light of recent events, we agreed to strengthen those efforts. So based on the proposal tabled by the French minister of defence all ISAF partners agreed to task our military authorities to develop such counter-infiltration plan and do that rapidly. That is before the end of February.
As regards the first part of your question, we have of course today discussed what could be a long-term sustainable size of the Afghan security forces. But no decision has been made. And we agreed today that we will now engage in a consultation process leading up to the Chicago Summit.
OANA LUNGESCU: Over there.
Q: Mister Secretary General, you said that ISAF forces will fight alongside the Afghan where necessary through the transition period. How is that impacted by the French plan to withdraw their forces next year and the American plan to disengage from combat next year?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me stress that I have not heard of any American plan to disengage from combat in Afghanistan. On the contrary, we have decided to stick to the Lisbon roadmap, which implies the transition to lead Afghan responsibility until the end of 2014 where we hope, expect the Afghans to take full responsibility for security all over Afghanistan.
And as I have said on several occasions, during that period of transition you will of course see a gradual change of the role of our forces from combat to support. You might say that the focus will shift from combat to support. But combat operations will still be needed during that period of transition. So there will be no disengagement from combat operations during the period of transition.
As far as France is concerned, it is of course a French decision as to how France will calibrate or configure its force presence. What we have heard is that France will stay committed to training activities in Afghanistan during this period of transition. So I can report to you today that all 50 ISAF partners stay committed to the Lisbon roadmap and to our mission throughout the period described in the Lisbon roadmap that is until the end of 2014. That's a fact.
OANA LUNGESCU: Associated Press.
Q: Yes, Secretary General, regarding the financing of post-2014 Afghan security forces, do you expect other major nations with interest in Afghanistan stability, specifically China, India and Russia to make a significant contribution...?
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: ... To the financing?
Q: To the financing yes.
ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: It's a call on the whole of the international community to contribute to financing Afghan security forces. Because I think it is also in the interest of countries in the region to see a stable and secure Afghanistan. And the stronger the Afghan security forces, the more stable and the more secure not only Afghanistan but the whole region. So my call on the international community also includes countries in the region.
OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. I'm afraid that's all we have time for. Thank you and have a good weekend.