Press conference

by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen following the meeting on Afghanistan in Heads of State and Government format

  • 21 May. 2012
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  • Last updated: 22 May. 2012 16:37

 Good afternoon.

We have just had an exceptional meeting of 60 nations and organisations focused on the future of Afghanistan. You only had to look around the table to realise the scale and strength of international support for the NATO-led mission there, and for the country’s stability in the years to come.

This sends a strong and clear signal to the people of Afghanistan, to the neighbours of Afghanistan, and indeed to the enemies of Afghanistan. Peace and stability in Afghanistan is a global imperative – and a global commitment. 

Since our last summit in Lisbon, nearly 18 months ago, we have made great progress -- in preventing Afghanistan from serving as a safe haven for terrorists and ensuring that Afghans take charge of their own security.

The insurgents are under pressure as never before. And we are on track to complete transition to Afghan security responsibility by the end of 2014. That was the goal we set with President Karzai in Lisbon.  We are all committed to it. And that goal is coming into sight.

Today, we have agreed on three key points: the next stage of our engagement until our mission is completed at the end of 2014; the role for NATO after 2014; and thirdly, our support for the sustainment of the future Afghan security forces.  

Every day Afghan troops and police are gaining in capability and confidence. With the right support, they are ready and eager to provide for their own security.  Already, three quarters of the Afghan population are living in areas where their own security forces are taking the lead for their security.

In the course of 2013, we expect the Afghan forces to be in the lead for combat operations across the country. This will mark an important mile-stone in our shared journey – the moment when, throughout Afghanistan, people can look out and see their own troops and police stepping up to the challenge.

As the Afghan forces step up, our own forces will step back into a supporting role. This will allow us to gradually and responsibly draw down our troops. But we will remain combat-ready until we have completed our ISAF mission at the end of 2014.  

However, that will not be the end of our commitment. The government of Afghanistan has invited NATO to help provide support to the Afghan security forces after 2014. And we are ready to lead a new training, advising and assistance mission.
And let me be clear: this will not be ISAF under a different name. It will be a new mission, with a new role for NATO. 

We all know that our long-term success rests on strong, skilled and sustainable Afghan security forces.

Today, we reaffirmed our strong commitment to support their training, equipping, financing and capability development in the years to come.  Allies and partners are playing their full part. I welcome the financial commitments that some have already made.

I would also like to recognise the steps taken by Russia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to facilitate the transit of ISAF cargoes. We count on Pakistan’s commitment to support the efforts of the international community to promote peace and stability in Afghanistan.

The Afghan government has also committed to playing its part, and not just financially. President Karzai has confirmed his government’s commitment to a stable, democratic society, based on the rule of law, and good governance. This includes the need to fight against corruption and to protect the human rights of all Afghans, including women. These commitments are vital to Afghanistan’s long-term stability, and our long-term support.

A peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan will benefit the whole region and beyond. Many challenges remain, but we are determined to succeed.  And based on today’s discussions, I am confident we will.

With that, I am ready to take your questions.


OANA LUNGESCU (NATO Spokesperson): I won't know all of you, so please introduce yourselves before you ask your questions. And I'll go to the BBC, Mark Mardell in the first row.

Wait for the microphone, please.

Q: Mark Mardell from the BBC. How important is it that there is an agreement over the routes with Pakistan? How frustrating is it that that hasn't happened, and how important, more generally, are they in securing Afghans' future?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO Secretary General): Obviously, we would like to see a reopening of the transit routes as soon as possible. So far the closure of the transit routes has not had a major impact on our operations in Afghanistan. But it goes without saying that it will be quite a logistical challenge to draw down the number of troops in the coming months and years.

So we need a number of transit routes, and obviously the transit routes through Pakistan are of great importance and I would expect... I would expect a reopening of the transit routes in the very near future.


Q: Yes, Secretary General, David Brunnstrom from Reuters. I wonder if I could follow up on your comments on ANSF funding. We're hearing that you're getting pledges in the region of $3.5 billion so far. How long do you think it's going to take you to make up that shortfall? And in terms of the size of the ANSF we're hearing figures projected of 230,000 after 2015. How long after 2015 do you think it's going to take to reduce the force to that level? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First of all, let me stress that I can't confirm that we have any shortfall when it comes to the financing of the Afghan Security Forces. The fact is that this Summit was not intended to be, and has not been a pledging conference. We are pleased that a number of countries have actually announced concrete financial contributions. We are very grateful for that, but we had no intention to make this a pledging conference.

So at this stage we have not seen any shortfalls. On the contrary, we have seen a lot of encouraging announcements of financial contributions, and I do believe that we are on the right track to reaching the goal of around $4 billion U.S. dollars a year for the financing of Afghan Security Forces. So it's actually a positive story.

Next, on the number of Afghan Security Forces in the longer-term perspective, you're right that as a planning assumption the number of 230,000 Afghan Security Forces, that number has been mentioned. But actually no decision has been made yet. The exact number will, at the end of the day, very much depend on the security situation on the ground, and the quality and capability of the Afghan Security Forces as we proceed.

We will now reach a level of around 350,000 Afghan Security Forces. So when the Afghans take full responsibility by the end of 2014 they'll have around 350,000 Security Forces.

I would expect that level to be maintained for a couple of years after 2014, but, again, very much will depend on the security situation on the ground, and probably we will not need 350,000 in a longer term perspective, partly because the security situation will continue to improve, and partly and primarily because the quality and capacity of the Afghan Security Forces will continue to improve.


Q: Mr. Secretary General, Lotfullah Najafizada, Tolo TV. Do you expect a decrease in the number of countries that would contribute troops or support to the post-ISAF mission in Afghanistan? We understand now that 50 countries are a part of the ISAF mission, but do you think that countries would withdraw by the end of ISAF mission?

And second question, if I may, what would be the exact mechanism to spend $4.1 billion for the funding of ANSF? Would you give the money to the Afghan Government to spend it, or NATO would take care of it? Thank you.

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First, on the number of participants in a post-2014 mission, I think it's much too early to make any assessment in that respect. The good news is that we have received many indications that the current members of ISAF will continue to contribute to a NATO-led training mission post-2014. So I would expect quite a number of participants in the ISAF coalition to continue participating in a NATO-led training mission after 2014. But I'm not in a position to present to you any exact figure. We don't know yet, and I don't think people have made up their mind yet.

There is still a couple of years to go, so let's see. But the good news is that many coalition partners have indicated that they are prepared to continue in a NATO-led training mission after 2014.

As regards the specifics around the financing mechanisms, we're still working on that, but I can assure you that we will make sure that the financing mechanism will be transparent, that money will be spent efficiently, that it will be directed to the exact purpose, so that donors can be confident that once they contribute to the financing of Afghan Security Forces money will be spent efficiently to finance Afghan Security Forces.

OANA LUNGESCU: Agence France-Presse.

Q: Laurent Thomet with Agence France-Presse. Pakistani President Zardari was invited here with the expectation that a deal would be reached on the reopening of the supply route. Can you confirm then that there will be no deal today on reopening the supply routes?

And can NATO actually successfully withdraw its troops and equipment from Afghanistan without this route through Pakistan?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First, we didn't expect an agreement on the Pakistan transit routes to be reached at this Summit. That was not planned. We invited President Zardari because we want to engage Pakistan in a constructive dialogue. We need a positive engagement of Pakistan if we are to ensure long-term peace and stability in Afghanistan and in the region. That's why we invited him and we appreciate that he attended the meeting.

I had an opportunity to exchange views directly with the President of Pakistan, and I was encouraged by his statements, also in the meeting, that Pakistan stays committed to finding a long-term sustainable solution to the conflicts in Afghanistan.

Obviously, it is in the interest of Pakistan to ensure peace and stability in Afghanistan and the President confirmed today that this is the position of Pakistan.

So on that basis I express some optimism as regards the possibility to see a reopening of the transit routes in the very near future.

OANA LUNGESCU: First row, two questions there.

Q: Peter Müller from the Europäische Sicherheit und Technologie. Secretary General, as you mentioned in your last sentence, security for women in Afghanistan, that is all written down in the United Nations Resolution 1235 [sic], was that a topic in the meeting? And if not, in your longer-term vision could it be that you will instal a special envoy on women and children in crisis management?

And my second question, could ISAF be a blueprint for further NATO activities in the future?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Sorry, the last...?

Q: The second question, could ISAF be a blueprint for future activities of NATO? And last question, when will be the next Summit of NATO? In two years, three years or...?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Thank you. First, on the UN Security Council Resolution 1325, about women in peace and conflict. This is, indeed, a very important topic. It's also been an issue at the meeting today. Several participants have referred to this United Nations Security Council Resolution. We attach strong importance to active engagement of women in preventing conflicts, and in resolving conflicts. And it is also our intention within NATO to step up efforts in that area.

We are very pleased that Norway has indicated an interest in participating in the financing of that. We appreciate that. We are now working on how we can expand our activities in that area. And that leads me to another important point that has also been addressed in this meeting, and it's also addressed in the joint declaration.

We have agreed on a joint declaration between ISAF and the Government of Afghanistan. And when you read it you will see that in Paragraph 5 we have stated, in a joint statement between the Afghan Government and ISAF, that the Government of Afghanistan confirms its resolve to deliver on its commitment to a democratic society, based on the rule of law and good governance, including progress in the fight against corruption where the human rights and fundamental freedoms of its citizens, including the equality of men and women and the active participation of both in Afghan society are respected.

That's a very important point and I'm very pleased that this is now a part of a joint declaration.

You ask me whether the ISAF coalition can serve as a model for future operations? Yes, indeed. This Summit is a very clear demonstration of the strength of our partnerships. NATO is the hub of a network of international security partnerships. We realize that if we are to accomplish security missions in the security environment of today we need partners. As we see in ISAF, as we see in KFOR, as we saw last year in our Libya operation.

Finally, we have not made any decision as to when the next Summit will take place.


Q: Mr. Secretary, excuse please the it's-all-about-me type of question. I'm Jay Levine from CBS here in Chicago. You said some very kind words about Chicago and called the opportunity to host this Summit priceless. In your estimation, has the image of Chicago been improved by the way it's welcomed the delegations to Chicago for this Summit, or hurt by the demonstrations in the street which have been broadcast worldwide during it?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: First, let me stress that the image of Chicago was good already before we arrived. But I have to say that the Summit has been prepared in a very professional manner by the local host committee and the local authorities. And from an organizational point of view the Summit has been conducted, has been carried out very smoothly, and we all appreciate the great hospitality of the City of Chicago and the people of Chicago.

I know that hosting a big international event like this will also cause some inconvenience for the citizens of Chicago. I apologize for that, but I think in exchange Chicago has got a unique opportunity to showcase what is Chicago. And I have to tell you that's become a tradition. Whenever I visit Chicago, on the very first morning after my arrival I did the run, as I always do, along Lake Michigan and it is... it's great. To have the lake on the one side and this very, very impressive Chicago skyline on the other side. It's really one of the most beautiful cities I know of.

So it's close to my heart, and I thank the City of Chicago and I thank the people of Chicago from deep of my heart for the great hospitality we have received.


Q: Leah Hope, ABC Chicago. While we are on the subject of Chicago, certainly you've seen what has happened here in the streets of Chicago the last 24 hours. Two questions: Do you think that there is a way for the world leaders to meet... you've talked about the importance of the meeting face-to-face, but do you think there is a way for them to meet and not draw this type of criticism?

And is there anything that NATO, the Alliance, will do moving forward, to perhaps address some of the criticism?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: That, of course, also relates to the question I got before. I mean, the fact that there's also been demonstrations during this weekend does not subtract from the very positive image of Chicago or the very positive outcomes of this Summit.

I mean, it's an integrated part of being a democratic society, that you also allow people to demonstrate, to express themselves. I think we should appreciate that we live in a free democracy where it is a constitutional right to participate in demonstrations and express your views.

Definitely, I have seen posters with slogans based on which I can tell you that I don't agree with the protesters, but that's also a constitutional right, to express views that contradict your own views.

I can tell you that we reached out to the protesters. One of my Assistant Secretary Generals met with representatives of the protest groups so that they could convey their views directly to NATO, and we also got an opportunity, in exchange, to explain where we stand and explain about the values upon which our Alliance is based.

So I think that's in the spirit of a true democracy, that we can meet and that people can also walk in the streets and express themselves that way. So actually, to my mind, this is not to be seen in any respect as an aggressive act. It's part of democracy. As long as demonstrations take place peacefully.

OANA LUNGESCU: The Times. Just behind you.

Q: Mike Evans from The Times. You've announced today, or confirmed today, I should say, that the combat phase for ISAF will be wrapped up by mid-2013, so do you envisage, and do the NATO leaders, envisage that the size of the ISAF force will be brought down dramatically by the middle of next year?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Not dramatically, but you will see a gradual drawdown during the rest of this transition period. And it's important to be clear on this. The fact that we will hand over the last provinces to lead Afghan responsibility by mid-2013 does not represent an accelerated roadmap. It has been within our roadmap right from the outset. We outlined a roadmap when we met in Lisbon in 2010, according to which we will, in a gradual process, hand over lead responsibility to the Afghans in a process to be completed by the end of 2014.

But if we are to complete it by the end of 2014, we have to hand over the last provinces to lead Afghan responsibility by mid-2013 because it takes usually between 12 and 18 months to actually implement transition. And this is the reason why the 2013 milestone has been mentioned. It's not a deviation from our roadmap, it's an integrated part of our roadmap. So from mid-2013 the Afghans will have taken lead responsibility all over Afghanistan. But only lead responsibility. We'll still be there. We will support them, and if necessary, also conduct combat operations in support of the Afghan Security Forces.

This process will be concluded by the end of 2014, and then the ISAF mission will end.

OANA LUNGESCU: One very last question, the gentleman over there, in the green shirt, or blue shirt.

Q: Julio Noel Rausseo, LS News Group. Your thoughts on domestic extremism. Are the NATO Alliance countries concerned about the uprising of domestic extremists and the potential they could deal with terrorist-sponsored nations?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN: Well, of course, it's always a matter of concern if you see what you call domestic extremism. But having said that, I also have to state that it's not my impression that this constitutes a major problem or a major challenge. Here and there you will see extremism or extremists, but I do believe that we can handle that within our free societies, in full respect of the basic principles on which we base our societies.

But, of course, we are aware of that aspect and, of course, NATO nations have also, during recent years, strengthened their capability to monitor such movements to make sure that they cannot constitute a threat to our citizens, whether they operate domestically solely, or they try to establish contacts with extremist groups internationally.

And this is also reason why a strong international cooperation between national intelligence services is so important.

So, of course, we are aware of that. I do not consider it a major problem, but of course we monitor the situation and we will resource our relevant institutions and services appropriately to deal with that challenge.

OANA LUNGESCU: Thank you very much. I'm sorry we didn't take time to take all your questions. We will be back for the final press conference and I'll try to give the questions to the people who already had their hands up.

Thank you.