Weekly press briefing

by NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai

  • 17 Oct. 2007 -
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  • Last updated: 28 Aug. 2008 16:40

Okay folks. Let me not take up too much of your time and I'd be happy to take any questions you have.  A quick update on where we are today; in fact, now.

We are beginning missile defence day in NATO. We have two meetings; first is one taking place in the North Atlantic Council on missile defence. This is the latest in a regular series of consultations at the council level. We have had both NAC and NRC (that is NATO-Russia Council) meetings on the 17 of November and the NRC on 28 February this year, again in the NAC and the NRC on 19 April. So this is the latest in a series.

What is happening right now, briefings by Under Secretary of Defence Eric Edelman who will in essence provide an update, is providing an update as we speak, on the talks between the U.S. and Moscow and the bilateral talks between the U.S., Poland, the Czech Republic. Assistant Secretary Dan Fried will be providing another political update, including on other issues relating to arms control. And General Obering, who is the Director of the U.S. Missile Defence Agency, will be providing more technical assessment, both of U.S. missile defence architecture and related NATO projects. This afternoon there will be a meeting in the NATO-Russia Council involving of course the same American participants.

On the Russian side there will be briefings by the Director of the Security and Disarmament Department of the Foreign Ministry in Russia. His name is Anatoly Antonov and the... First Deputy Chief of Staff of Space Troops. So... I'll say it again. First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Space Troops. His name is Alexander Yakushin (Y-a-k-u-s-h-i-n). I cannot go into detail about what the Russians are going to brief because I do not know what the Russians are going to brief.

Friday we have a visit by the President of Albania, Mr. Topi. There will be a point de presse around 10:45. Of course this is in the context of A, regular visits from heads of state and government from the region, but also looking forward to Bucharest there is no doubt that the Membership Action Plan and Albania's efforts to receive an invitation to join NATO will be firmly on the agenda.

For those of you... I previewed this at the beginning, but I have in front of me my notes that the Slovak government is expected this morning to approve the deployment of an additional 58 soldiers to Tarin Kawt, 52, 58 ... above 50 anyway, soldiers to Uruzgan to help the Dutch in Tarin Kawt. These troops, if I understand correctly, come without caveats which is something of course NATO would welcome very strongly. I understand that the same government decision will or should prove the deployment of additional troops and helicopters to KFOR, something that we also welcome because it comes as a sign of commitment at a relatively sensitive period in  in Kosovo.

Let me turn to Noordwijk and give you a little preview of where we are going in preparations for the Ministerial. The meeting in essence will start at 2:00 o'clock on Wednesday with.... this is an informal meeting of NAC Defence Ministers. That first session will be Ministers only. So even I unfortunately and surprisingly will not be participating in the room. So Ministers only. They will of course discuss in this meeting and in their subsequent meeting the next morning... but I'll come back to that.

Operations and transformation. What does that mean? Afghanistan will clearly be the first item on the agenda. You will not be surprised to hear me say that they will look at the current operations, including Operation Pamir which I mentioned to you last week, which is our framework operation now underway in Afghanistan. They will also be looking at force levels and how to meet the current shortfalls that we have, particularly helicopters, fixed-wing and some manoeuvre capability.

Third, they will be looking at training. I have mentioned this many times. We, as NATO, need to invest and have committed to invest more when it comes to what the Americans call embedded training teams, what we call Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams. In other words, small teams that embed in Afghan battalions, Kandaks, and deploy with them. We have now committed and deployed about half of what we need to meet the current requirement of Afghan battalions, around 20. We have another 10 to 12 that are in the pipeline. That would still leave us short. And, as the Afghan Armed Forces expand quickly (there are battalions coming off the assembly line on a regular basis), that requirement will continue to grow. So there will be a heavy focus in Noordwijk on how nations can meet this very, very important requirement.

At a certain stage in this operation, we will need to move to a situation in which Afghan Forces are carrying out the combat and NATO Forces are providing support. That will not be possible unless the training effort is successful.

Coming back to the schedule. On the afternoon/evening, 17:15 of the Wednesday evening there will be an informal meeting again of NATO Defence Ministers, but with non-NATO ISAF contributing nations. In other words, all 37. The other 11 countries that are not in the first session, but are in the ISAF mission, will come in. They will be joined by the Afghan Defence Minister, representatives from the UN, the World Bank and the European Union.

This is reflection of the reality in Afghanistan and that is that NATO is not there alone and even more that our success as an international community depends critically on the success of the UN, the World Bank, the European Union and the Afghans to do their part. To the extent that they are successful, it will help make our NATO mission successful as well.

Thursday morning the meeting of NATO Defence Ministers... as at 26 will continue starting at about 8:30. At 11:40 we will have a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council and that will be will Russian Defence Minister Serdyukov. There are a whole host of issues as you can imagine that will be of interest to Defence Ministers. We have on the... let's say the positive side of the ledger, good co-operation with the Russians. For example, when it comes to counter-narcotics training in the context of Afghanistan for Afghan and Central Asian officials. That is going quite well. So is Russian participation in Operation Active Endeavour where a ship is now sailing.

There are issues where we don't see eye to eye. Missile Defence; that will come up today. Talks on CFE where there has been of course some progress and other issues relating to well larger political questions such as Kosovo.

So I do expect a very interesting discussion. This will be followed by lunch. That may not make the wires. That's actually all I wanted to raise with you, but I'm happy to take any questions that you might have.


Q: Yeah James. Barring any major surprises, Turkish Parliament are going to vote to allow incursions into northern Iraq. Do you have a reaction to that?

Appathurai: Two points. First, of course it is up to any Parliament to make its own decisions and up to any nation to make its own decisions and NATO certainly doesn't intend or try to impinge on that sovereign right.

That being said, the Secretary General spoke at length with President Gul last night. In that conversation, the Secretary General expressed his condolences for the loss of life that Turkey has suffered as a result of terrorist attacks. He has expressed his understanding for the great pressure that the Turkish society is under as a result of these regular losses. NATO considers the PKK to be a terrorist organization.

The Secretary General also expressed to President Gul his belief that all parties should exercise the greatest possible restraint precisely in this time of great tension. President Gul of course received those words, passed them on to the rest of the government and, you will not be surprised, expressed Turkey's concern, great concern, over these continuing terrorist attacks on its territory.

Q: Two questions to Noordwijk. Do you already know when the Secretary General will meet the press on Thursday? And will Mr. Gates, the American Defence Minister show up and will he give a press conference? Do you already know?

And the second question is will you talk... will the Netherlands be ready to talk about the issue whether they stay with their full capability in the south or do you expect there any movement in this question?

Appathurai: Thank you for that. The Secretary General's first press conference will be Wednesday at 16:45. His next press conference will be at 13:00 on Thursday after the NRC. And at a certain stage I think either at the end of the session sort of 18:45... my plan is that at 18:45 on Wednesday and then probably around 11:00/11:15 on Thursday I will come out and provide updates where he is not available.

Q: Coming back to this training, this embedding of Allied Forces with Afghan units, what size are these embedded units? And they're going into what size military units did you say? Battalions?

Appathurai: Battalions.

Q: And are they equipped on the same level? The incoming embedded soldiers are carrying the same equipment as the entities into which they are embedded (to use that horrible term)? Everyone is working to the same equipment standards and same communication standards? Otherwise, how are they training them?

Appathurai: Thank you for the question. What size are they? My understanding is in general they are 10 to 20. In terms of their equipment level they of course come equipped as western forces and that's a very important requirement, not least because if the battalion into which they are embedded, to which they are providing mentoring and liaison in the NATO jargon, comes under attack and needs, for example, close air support and medical evacuation, they can provide the link back to western forces, western air power for example, to provide immediate and direct close air support and medical evacuation.

I don't know the level to which the Afghan battalions are equipped. I suspect that they are not equipped to the same level as our soldiers. But there is a multi-million Euro program of equipping Afghan battalions, Afghan National Army, including with air power, led of course principally by the United States. There's no doubt about this, but NATO has also invested millions of Euros and equipment for Afghan National Army personnel and we will continue to do that.

Q: I have to follow-up.

Appathurai: Yes please.

Q: That's putting the cart before the horse isn't it? Unless all of the members within a given training unit are equipped in the same way, what's the point? Otherwise these units, these NATO units, are just providing security and support and back-up.

Appathurai: Well A, they are providing some security and support and back-up which is not immaterial -

Q: How can the rest of the Afghan Forces train if they don't have the same equipment?

Appathurai: Well A, they have their own equipment. Second, they have been trained and they are being deployed. I think this is a very important point. These are mentoring and liaison teams within deployed Afghan... when they are trained and then deployed. And second, they offer them mentoring and training - how to conduct operations, how to react in the face of real world events.

General Craddock went on at length about this in the NAC. It is one thing to train people on a base; what is proving invaluable is giving the Afghan troops their first, in a sense organized, combat experience, because that will be the platform to allow them to begin to conduct operations on their own.

Q: The question is maybe already answered somewhere, but I could not find it. Are the OMLT's supposed to be deployed in the area where countries that have sent those embedded officers or non-(inaudible) officers based themselves? For instance, the northern part of Afghanistan for Germans, Kabul and area for the French or the Turks or whatever? Or, are they supposed to be with Afghan troops (inaudible), that is to say anywhere including in combat situations?

According to what I've been told and other comrades here, it was mentioned that a French OMLT was facing an attack by Taliban; asked for close air support, then cancelled the close air support for obvious reasons, not to cause civilian losses. And then I realized that some OMLTs were in a combat situation, but all countries are following the same attitude. Can we say that there are also caveats for embedded training teams or are there no caveats at all? Could you say who and where and when and so on?

Appathurai: My understanding is that as a point of principle no nation has imposed caveats on the use of their OMLTs as we call them. Second, the idea is certainly, from a NATO point of view, that they should be able to deploy with the battalion they have trained and in which they are embedded. And I do not know, for the moment, any concrete - I have heard anecdotal evidence - but I certainly have not heard any concrete examples of any country refusing to allow its OMLT to deploy where the Kandack into which it is embedded has been sent.

Q: We heard that in Germany it was the case.

Appathurai: I've heard, but I have not seen any... I mean I've heard press reports of this, but have not seen anything internally. So I don't know that this has happened is what I'm trying to say. I have seen that it happened in the press, but no one has told me this from inside NATO. So I don't know.

Q: Just a follow-up on the OMLT requirements you were talking about. There will be a need that will be proportional for the amount of ANA coming in. They were at roughly 35,000; about half of what was needed for the Afghan National Army. Can you give me an idea are those figures still about the same? What's the sort of turnover? How fast are they coming in and so how fast are your requirements going to grow?

Appathurai: Yes, you're right. The Afghan National Army is about 35,000 to 40,000. The idea, the plan, is that it should grow to 70,000 within the next two or three years. I can tell you the Afghan Defence Minister thinks that it should go further than that. So for the moment the agreed plan is that it should grow to 70,000. Right now we have a requirement for 46 Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams. We have, as I say, 20 committed. We have another 10 to 12, 10 to 13 depending on how you compose them in the pipeline. That leaves us with a shortfall - you can do the math.

We expect within the next two or three years for the requirement to grow first to 60 and then soon to 80 OMLTs at the very least. So our requirement will grow significantly, almost by another 100 percent, again, at the very least. I expect it will be higher than that in fact.

We'll go across the row.

Q: (Inaudible) Radio. I just have a question about today's NAC and NRC. I know it's difficult to say what the conclusions will be; nevertheless as you mentioned yourself this is the latest in the series of meetings. Can you try to sum up whereabouts the discussion is between NATO and the U.S. as far as missile defence is concerned. What's the kind of progress? What progress has been made in the past few months? And do you expect any movement on the Russian side? Because last weekend there was the meeting in Moscow; the Russian opposition still seems to be the same as it was six months ago, one year ago.

Thank you.

Appathurai: Thank you. In terms of NATO-U.S. discussions, well those aren't really the right way to frame this because the U.S. is of course part of NATO. And the focus of activity right now is very much the U.S. bilateral discussions with a whole host of countries. Obviously since I'm sitting here I have trouble characterizing the nature of the discussion there right now, but I have seen for example comments from President Putin this morning saying that there has been some movement. He's a little bit more hopeful.

So we will see where these discussions go. I did it this early because I know half of you were packing up to go to Lisbon later this afternoon. So I couldn't be in a position to characterize the discussion. I'm sorry.

Q: As far as I know, today the Turkish Parliament might be voting a military operation of the Turkish army in Iraq. Does NATO have to say something about that?

Appathurai: Yes. Three points. One is that the Turkish Parliament's decision is of course a sovereign decision. NATO does not make a comment on its own vote. Second point is that the Secretary General spoke yesterday with President Gul; expressed his condolences for the loss of Turkish life as a result of these ongoing terrorist attacks; expressed his understanding for the great pressure that Turkish society is under as a result of these terrorist attacks. NATO considers the PKK to be a terrorist organization, as does I believe the European Union. But he also urged precisely in this time of great tension, the maximum restraint on all parties. And that's what I have to say on that subject.

Q: Two questions You mentioned that E.U. and World Bank were joined (inaudible) Defence Ministers. What kind of role will they play? (Inaudible) negotiation or just like a partnership or a discussion, or any decisions being taken this time.

Second, you mentioned also some progress maybe on CFE between NATO and Russia. Could you go into detail a little bit?

Thank you.

Appathurai: Thank you. The UN, E.U., the World Bank, they will all be represented as part of, as I mentioned using our jargon, as part of the comprehensive approach that Afghanistan requires. I don't know at what level they will be represented, but the importance of not only discussing together a common approach, but of being seen together addressing Afghanistan I think should not be underestimated.

As I mentioned before, NATO cannot reform the Afghan government. NATO cannot stimulate the economy. NATO cannot take the lead in countering narcotics. NATO cannot take the lead in training the police. But all of these are essential elements to creating the kind of stability in Afghanistan that we all want and towards which we are devoting an enormous amount of resources, including human resources.

So having a concerted approach by all of these organizations with us is absolutely essential and I think it only makes sense to have them at our meetings because we are in essence doing all of this together and towards the same goals.

In terms of CFE, there are discussions underway - this is no secret - between the United States and the Russian Federation on the various concerns that the Russian Federation has about CFE. I understand that these talks are going well and I don't want to characterize them anymore beyond that because they are not NATO discussions. But my understanding is these discussions are going well.

Q: This is just a logistical question. Just earlier in the year when NATO and the Russians met dealing with missile defence there were briefings, lengthy and detailed briefings from both sides. Why this time there are not things prepared for the press?

Thank you.

Appathurai: Well I don't know what the Russian are preparing, but my understanding is - and by the way I offered to host - but I understand that the United States will be holding a briefing at 16:00 at NATO Headquarters. So you might want to check with their delegation. I think it was to be Edelman and Obering. And again, the Russians may well be doing something, but I don't know what it is.

Q: On the Slovak troops you mentioned earlier, can you say when and for how long they will stay in Uruzgan?

Appathurai: Let's wait for the government decision. I am not aware of a time limit and I don't know when they're going.

Q: (Inaudible) from New Europe. It's just a question on clarification. Religion is a major factor in the ongoing war on terror. Can you enlighten me on NATO's handling of the factor? For example, having a special committee or a watchdog or guiding committee to analyze this in the affected areas, or in the areas where in future there could be trouble, for example in Kosovo. I was recently there and there's a lot of Wahhabism and the money being pumped from Saudi Arabia.

And the second question is poppy use in medicine; as crops are booming and we are unable to control them, I have come to know that there are discussions about using them in medicine. Can you elaborate on that?

Appathurai: I can. We'll discuss the second one first and I think some of you have already heard my little speech on this issue. There are discussions about legalizing in Afghanistan the production of poppy in one way or another and diverting it towards morphine production. The assessment of the United Nations Office of Drugs is very clear that this is not a workable concept. It is not workable for a number of reasons.

A, the security environment is not sufficient to tamp down on the illegal market. In other words, you could not enforce such a regime in Afghanistan. Second, because there is no demand in the developing world, which is the foundation of this thesis, for the kind of morphine, the amounts of morphine that this would be producing. Second, because there is no lack of supply. Afghanistan... there is already a five-year over-supply of opium in the world, enough to supply five year's worth of demand and of course the illegal market in Afghanistan is simply adding to that on a regular basis.

Finally, coming back to the first point that I mentioned, the price of legal opium is $30 dollars a kilo; the illegal price is $110 to $130. In Afghanistan there would be no way to prevent that from going over to the illegal market, nor any incentive for the average farmer to move into it.

For all of these reasons it is not supported by the United Nations. It is not supported by the counter-narcotics officials in any of our NATO countries as far as I'm aware. It is not supported at all by President Karzai who considers the poppy crop to be  un-Islamic and he wants it stopped in his own country. For all of these reasons, this is not an idea I believe that NATO would sign up to soon.

In terms of a special committee or an analysis on religion; certainly we don't have anything like that in NATO headquarters I can tell, nor have we ever had it in the nine years that I've been there. Is it an issue that requires study? I believe that NATO countries, as individual nations, must take this into account as one must, but I am not aware of any formal structures to look at these kinds of issues.

Back to the front.

Q: James coming back to Noordwijk. You talked about addressing shortfalls in Afghanistan and I'm just wondering can we expect concrete commitments from countries in Noordwijk - country X is going to provide helicopters or whatever - because we've sort of been here before and when countries haven't come forward with commitments, we're then told that this an informal meeting, it's not a force generation conference. So this time are you expecting commitments in terms of manpower or helicopters or whatever?

Appathurai: Well I hate to say it, but it's not a force generation conference and it's an informal meeting. So I don't know whether nations will come forward with concrete offers. But you hit on a very important point which will be a topic of discussion in Noordwijk and I expect it's going to be even more a topic of discussion as we get closer to the summit and that is the overall pressure on western forces to meet all of the various requirements of the various operations which they are called to do.

From Lebanon to Darfur, to Chad, to Afghanistan, to Kosovo, all of which require not just boots on the ground, but helicopters and C130s and doctors and engineers and all of these elements. There is a strong sense amongst our military leadership and amongst our political leadership in NATO that the pressure has grown on them, on our forces, to such an extent that it needs a fresh look. It needs a fresh look at how we fund our armed forces and the levels at which we fund them (the two percent benchmark); at the way in which we pay for operations, to ensure that the mechanisms are in place to encourage A, the purchase of equipment and B, the use of armed forces in operations.

In other words, if you are Dutch, if you're the Dutch government, you buy Apaches. Then you're one of the few countries that has Apaches, so you have to use them in operations at an enormous cost during their use and also in a very harsh environment which degrades the asset, which brings forward the date of replacement. You're being asked to do quite a lot.

So the Secretary General certainly believes that we need to have a much fresher look at common funding and I think that that doesn't just apply to NATO. It's going to have to apply beyond the Alliance because the European Union not only faces the same difficulties that we do, but will continue to as it takes on roles like the one it's taking on in Darfur.

So Noordwijk I think will be a place where the challenges that we face in terms of force generation, not just for Afghanistan, but (this is no secret) for the NATO Response Force. These issues are linked and they are linked to the overall pressure on western forces. That I'm quite sure will be a topic of discussion in Noordwijk.

Q: I just want to come back to the Turkish question if I could. You mentioned in your statement that there have been attacks on Turkish soil by a group that NATO sees as a terrorist organization. Has there not been a discussion in the NAC about the possible invoking of the Article Five? I would think presumably that would be a case for that or any form of help that Allies could offer Turkey in this situation? Or does it stop at condolences?

Appathurai: Turkey has not requested any discussion of Article Five. It has not requested consultations under Article Four of the Washington Treaty, which of course triggers political consultations. Does that mean it's not discussed? No, I can tell you today in the North Atlantic Council, the Turkish Ambassador I expect will certainly raise the issue of what's going on with regard to terrorist attacks inside Turkey and among Turkish citizens.

What we should not ignore of course is the very extensive intelligence co-operation that Turkey receives on a bilateral basis from a whole host of countries in Europe and in North America as well, but that doesn't take place in the NATO context.

Q: Military help or... on the border or...?

Appathurai: None of this has been requested or raised by the Turkish authorities in any way.

Q: Question to Nordwijk. On Wednesday Afghanistan will be discussed; on Thursday morning what will be the subject?

Appathurai: Operations and Transformation and they will take it as a block and whatever they don't get through in the first bit, they'll get through in the second bit. Let me move quickly on to the next question.

Q: A very general question which is not supposed to be addressed by NATO. It's a bilateral treaty - INF - I presume that it is of concern to NATO countries though?

Appathurai: I have seen as you have seen President Putin's comments. This is not the first time the Russian Federation has raised concerns about the INF Treaty. OF course we watch as NATO very closely these discussions. But you're quite right; it is not a NATO treaty. NATO is not signatory to it and so it is for us to observe and pay close attention to.

Q: Two separate questions. Coming back to your statement that the Sec Gen says because of the rising pressure on operations that we need to take a fresh look at common funding. Can you more precisely frame what the debate is? Do you mean the size of NATO's common funding or how it should be used? That's one question.

And second, missile defence. Leaving aside the whole third site debate and all of the problems between NATO and Russia, can you bring us up to date on what's the progress that's been achieved on the NATO co-operation in missile defence, the projects and the exercises? What's new?

Appathurai: Common funding. None of this is agreed, so I'm just putting ideas on the table that are often under discussion, but certainly not agreed. Ideas... these ideas focus not on changing, for example, the costs shared within NATO that has just been agreed and it is not controversial. The question is broadening the area which would fall under common funding. That is the key.  Could that include for example greater funding for air transport? Could it include greater funding for infrastructure in Afghanistan? Could it include more efforts to acquire on a multi-national basis assets that could be put at the disposal of the Alliance? For example, you have the C17s, but we have discussions of leasing helicopters (hat is not secret) in Afghanistan as we have leased strategic air transport to get us and our equipment to Afghanistan.

Could that... the eligibility for that common funding be expanded? So that I think is the essence of the discussion. The initial deployments of the NATO Response Force on short notice; that too could conceivably be common funded. So this is an area where I think we could make some progress.

On missile defence. My understanding is that it is a mixed bag of progress in NATO-Russia - theatre missile defence co-operation. We have good exchanges at the technical level in terms of co-operation, interoperability. We I think at NATO would like to see more in the way of actual practical exercises where it has not moved as quickly as we would hope and expect. I'm reasonably certain that that will be an issue of discussion today in the NATO-Russia Council.

Please and then I'm going to have to run I'm afraid.

Q: Will there be any discussion in Noordwijk about the French issue and that they would like to join NATO again?

Appathurai: If I had to put money on it, no. No, I don't expect any discussion of that. France has to have its own internal discussions and nobody is going to put the cart ahead of the horse.

I think we had one more over there.

Q: Or two.

Appathurai: Okay.

Q: Nothing on Kosovo at this time because -


Appathurai: For NATO the situation in Kosovo is in essence unchanged. There is a political track which is moving very quickly. You all know we had the Troika visit the NATO Council on Monday and give us an update on where they are focusing in particular on their mandate and process. But for NATO our job remains through December 10th to back-stop that political process with security and that is not changing for us.

Q: Just a follow-up on the French question. My understanding was that the French had actually sent a letter to NATO saying yes, we would like to re-integrate and these are our conditions. So can you confirm whether that letter has been received?

Appathurai: On the contrary. I can deny that such a letter was ever sent. No such letter has been sent. What the French have done and this was reported very professionally by a colleague of yours in the room was they had sent a non-paper, what we call a non-paper has no formal status, to colleagues to discuss various ideas for reinforcing co-operation between NATO and the European Union. That is what has been sent to NATO. And as I say, it's a non-paper, an informal paper, unsigned, not with the Official Imprimatur of the French government, but simply as ideas to stimulate thought. That is the extent of it. Believe me, if there was a more formal letter on announcing their re-integration, I'm sure I would have been told.

That's it. Thanks so much folks.