Monthly press conference by the NATO Secretary General

  • 05 Nov. 2012
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  • Last updated: 05 Nov. 2012 20:20

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen during his monthly press briefing at the Residence Palace in Brussels

Good afternoon.

This month we will mark two years since the NATO Summit in Lisbon. Where we agreed with the president of Afghanistan and with our partners, that we would put the security of all Afghans fully and firmly in Afghan hands by the end of 2014.

We are sticking with the strategy we have agreed, because it is working. And our common goal is within sight.

In just over two years’ time, the handover of security responsibility will be complete. Afghan troops and police will be fully in charge of security across their country.

So we are now more than half-way in that journey. And this is the right moment to look at what we have achieved together and the challenges which lie ahead.

Step by step, we have made real progress. We have resolutely stayed on track. And we remain on course to complete the transition to full Afghan security responsibility by the end of 2014, as planned.

Two years ago, ISAF was in charge of security across Afghanistan, except Kabul city itself.

Today, the Afghan forces are in the lead for providing security to 75% of the Afghan population. During the first six months of this year, they led over 80% of all operations. And they are currently conducting 85% of training.

I saw their progress for myself when I visited Afghanistan two weeks ago, together with the North Atlantic Council and seven of our partners in ISAF. We visited Kabul, Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif.

In those cities, the Afghans are in the lead. In those cities, Afghan citizens are going about their daily lives – with Afghan soldiers and police watching over them. And in those cities, the security situation has stayed stable, or improved, since transition began.

For example, in and around Kabul, enemy-initiated attacks fell by 17 percent in the first eight months of this year, compared with the same period last year. And when the enemy did launch attacks, the Afghan forces took the lead in dealing with them.

We are still facing challenges. But the Afghan forces are meeting the challenge. And the enemy is being pushed further back from the population. Currently, 80 percent of their attacks take place in areas where just 20 percent of the population lives.

That is largely due to the Afghan security forces, which have grown considerably both in strength and skills. Afghanistan has recruited 352,000 troops and police, who are being trained and deployed across the country.

They are constantly improving their literacy rates. They are developing vital skills, such as air support, medical evacuation, maintenance and logistics. They now have a force of 10,000 Special Operations troops.

In September, the Afghan forces took command of the advanced infantry training school. And in October, the ground was broken for the Afghan National Army Officer Academy – to develop the next generation of Afghan commanders.

On our visit to Afghanistan, we met provincial army and police commanders, and we saw Afghan special forces in training. I was impressed by their professionalism and determination, and by the pride that Afghans take in their security forces.

Of course, they still need to improve. The Afghan forces which you will see by the end of 2014 will be more experienced. Better educated. And more effective.

Mais qu’on ne s’y trompe pas : les forces afghanes sont de plus en plus au premier plan. De ce fait, la FIAS peut faire porter l’essentiel de son effort non plus sur le combat mais sur le soutien. Certains de nos soldats sont passés à un rôle de formation et de mentorat. D’autres sont déjà rentrés. D’ici à fin 2014, nous poursuivrons ce processus d’une manière coordonnée et responsable. Il ne s’agit pas d’un changement de plan : cela fait partie du plan. Et nous irons jusqu’au bout.

L’OTAN et la communauté internationale tout entière ont fait un investissement sans précédent dans la sécurité de l’Afghanistan. Pour faire fructifier les bénéfices durement acquis, toutes les parties prenantes doivent tenir les promesses qu'elles se sont faites. Les autorités afghanes se sont engagées à améliorer la gouvernance, à lutter contre la corruption et à garantir la protection des droits humains, y compris ceux des femmes.

Les élections présidentielles et provinciales de 2014 constitueront un pas important vers un avenir meilleur. Je note avec satisfaction que la date de ces élections a été annoncée et que les autorités afghanes se sont engagées à tenir des élections qui soient inclusives, transparentes et crédibles. Ces élections constituent une occasion historique pour l'Afghanistan. Les Alliés et leurs partenaires de la FIAS ne doutent pas que le processus sera démocratique, conformément à la Constitution. Cela contribuera à la stabilité, à la sécurité et à la prospérité. Durant notre visite en Afghanistan, nous avons insisté sur ces points lors de nos rencontres avec le président Karzaï ainsi qu’avec les ministres et les membres du Parlement.

There are many challenges ahead. But I am confident that, with the continued mutual commitments of Afghanistan and the international community, Afghanistan will rise to the challenge.

Finally, I would like to update you on another successful NATO operation – Ocean Shield, which is NATO’s contribution to the international anti-piracy effort in the waters around the Horn of Africa, in accordance with a United Nations mandate.

Our Task Force patrols an area greater than 2 million square miles, approximately the size of Western Europe. It has recently helped the crew of a ship kept hostage by pirates for two years and continues to interdict pirate activity. It also helps build up the capacity of regional governments to fight piracy and increase maritime safety and security in East Africa.

Due to our combined efforts, the East African coast is now much safer than in the past. Attacks are down sharply. In 2011 pirates managed to capture 24 ships, in 2012 they have captured 7. In 2011 we recorded 129 pirate attacks, in 2012 they have been 19. So there is still work to do but international cooperation is showing results and NATO is playing its part.

And with that, I'm ready to answer your questions. 

Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson):  OK, lady over there, Middle East News Agency.

Q:  Will NATO accept the demand of Turkey to deploy Patriot missiles along its border with Syria?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  First of all, let me stress that we have not received such a request.  If we were to receive such a request, Allies would have to consider it. 

Oana Lungescu:  OK, Reuters.

Q:  Adrian Croft from Reuters, Secretary General.  I want to ask you about a comment by several Russian officials who said they would stop cooperating with NATO over Afghanistan after 2014, unless NATO seeks UN Security Council authorization for its new post-2014 training mission.  Does NATO or any member of the Alliance intend to seek Security Council authorization for the new Afghan mission?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  First of all, I would say it is quite a hypothetical question because we're not there yet.  We operate right now in Afghanistan on the basis of a United Nations mandate.  We would be able to operate in Afghanistan after 2014 on the basis of an invitation from the Afghan Government.  That would be fully in accordance with international law.  If we, on top of that, could have a United Nations mandate, I think it would be a good thing.  But we could operate on the basis on an invitation from the Afghan Government.

Oana Lungescu: Agence Europe.

Q:  Yes, Secretary General, since we are talking about Russia, could you tell us where NATO stands in the relations with Russia, especially on two issues:  on the missile defence and the on the transfer hub in Russia for ISAF redeployment of troops from Afghanistan?  And could you tell us if there will be a meeting of the council... of the NATO-Russia Council in the next ministerial meeting in December?  Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First, on the state of affairs.  We have seen progress when it comes to practical cooperation between NATO and Russia.  In particular, we appreciate the Russian offers to provide transit for our operation in Afghanistan.  These transit arrangements have been expanded on a number of occasions. We appreciate that.  We've also practical cooperation in other areas, when it comes to counter-narcotics, counter-terrorism, counter-piracy.  So we have seen progress when it comes to practical cooperation between NATO and Russia.

Next, on missile defence, we have invited Russia to cooperate on missile defence. So far, we have not seen significant progress. Actually, we have not seen progress at all. But our dialogue continues.

Thirdly, on the meeting, I had a telephone conversation with Foreign Minister Lavrov last week. And I would expect a NATO-Russia Council Meeting at foreign ministers level to take place in December.

Oana Lungescu:  ANSA. 

Q:  Marco Uel (sp?), di ANSA. Mister Secretary, what are your expectations towards the presidential election in US?  And what can eventually change... for NATO if there would be a Romney win? And last question, what has been … [inaudible] by Mr. Obama administration on NATO plan and European attitude to NATO? Thank you. 

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  I'm awaiting the outcome of the American elections with the same excitement as anybody else, I think.  But I would say that whoever wins I'm sure that the United States will stay committed to a very strong transatlantic relationship.  NATO will remain a cornerstone in Euro-Atlantic security. 

As regards our cooperation with the current administration it has been the very best.  The Obama administration has involved Allies closely in consultations before major American decisions that might have an impact on Euro-Atlantic security and have an impact on other Allies. And on the personal level, I have had the very best cooperation with the president as well as other members of his administration.

Oana Lungescu:  NTV Turkey.

Q:  Yes, Secretary General, two questions if I may.  My first question is with regard to Syria again.  I know that you made a statement prior to the defence ministers meeting saying that NATO is ready for all kinds of situation with regard... and is ready to give support.  I was wondering whether there is an update at a technical level or military level in any contingency plan or scenario and whether the radar system that is in Turkey with regard with missile defence system would eventually work with any threat coming from Syria as well. 

And my second question is with the regard to Afghanistan.  After 2014 NATO Allies are planning to train and to continue the training mission on the spot.  And I was wondering how... what kind of forces could be deployed in order to protect those who will train the Afghans because you put light forces, they will always be... they could always be under attack?  And if you put... you need to protect them, and if you put heavy forces, then there will be a different footprint? Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  As regards your first question, as you know, as a matter of principle, we'll never comment on contingency planning and updates of contingency plans.  But I think you would be surprised if a defence alliance like NATO didn't have all plans in place to protect and defend any Ally including of course Turkey.  And this is the reason why I have stated publicly on several occasions that of course we stand ready to protect and defend Turkey if so needed. But obviously we don't comment on details in our contingency planning.

On your second question, we have started planning of our post-2014 mission in Afghanistan.  The core will be a training mission.  It will be a mission different from the current ISAF combat mission.  It will be a training mission.  But obviously we will make sure that our trainers and instructors can operate in a secure environment. 

We have not yet decided exactly how.  We are in the very early phases of our planning.  We took the first step at a political level, when defence ministers met in October.  We will take the next step when they meet in February.  And I would expect final preparation to be completed by mid-2013. So at this date, we have not made detailed decisions as regards how to protect our trainers and instructors effectively.  But it goes without saying... it goes without saying that we will provide the necessary protection of our trainers and instructors. 

Oana Lungescu:  Europa Press person down there.

Q:  (Inaudible)

Oana Lungescu:  You need to lift up the seat cover, yes.

Q:  Thank you, Ana Pisonero from the Spanish News Agency Europa Press.  By when do we expect COMISAF to give his recommendations on the force level that they still need in Afghanistan for 2013 and 2014?  And I don't know if you can give us a figure on how many ISAF troops are still today doing combat operations.  Because you have given the idea that more and more... it's more support and not combat any more.  So I don't know if you could give us some relations of numbers.

And then my second question is concerning Ukraine. I don't know if NATO is worried that so many days after the elections that still we don't know the official results completely tabled and recounted.  Does this say... does this... is this worrying for NATO as such, considering that in the past NATO is always offering its help to Ukraine to carry on with its reforms in the idea to get closer to NATO?  Not for now; but we'll see in the future.  Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  First on Afghanistan and the COMISAF recommendation.  First of all, let me stress that all our troops stand ready for combat if needed throughout the transition period.  You're right; we're gradually changing their role.  So when the Afghan security forces step forward and take the lead of more and more security operations our troops can take a step backwards and move into a more supporting role. 

But I would like to stress that they stand ready to do combat if needed.  And then, eventually, the Afghans will take full responsibility by the end of 2014.  So an exact figure is not... It's not possible to provide you with an exact figure; because it's very much dependent on the situation on the ground, day by day. 

As regard to COMISAF's recommendation, he's now preparing a recommendation as to how a gradual drawdown can and will take place throughout 2013 and 2014.  It's for him to decide when the time is right to provide such a recommendation. But I would expect it to be ready by the end of this year. 

Now, on Ukraine, let me tell you that I'm very concerned about the situation in Ukraine.  It's clear that the parliamentarian elections constituted a step backwards for Ukrainian democracy.  And I share the concerns expressed by the international election observation mission in its preliminary findings regarding the conduct of the elections in Ukraine.  These findings outline a mixed picture with several shortcomings, including the lack of a level playing field. 

I think Ukraine deserves strong democratic institutions and political system that respects the rule of law.  And these elections did not advance those causes.  And I want to reiterate my deep concern that politically motivated convictions of opposition leaders prevented them from running in these elections.  An independent sovereign and stable Ukraine firmly committed to democracy and the rule of law is key to Euro-Atlantic security.  That's why I'm concerned about the current situation in Ukraine.  But I would also like to add that the Alliance stands ready to further assist Ukraine in its reforms. 

Oana Lungescu:  Japanese Media.

Q:       Hello, my name is Takashi (sp?) with NHK (sp?)  Japan Broadcasting Corporation.  My question is about Afghanistan.  Now that the date for the Afghan presidential election has been set in April 2014; but we can easily assume we may see some rise of violence or attacks in run-up to the presidential election, how would you cooperate?  How would you, well, respond to those possible surges of violence? How does it affect your drawdown plan to end by the end of 2014?  Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  First of all, I would like to clearly welcome the fact that a date for presidential elections has been fixed.  Next, I would like to stress the importance of a secure environment for the conduct of these elections. 

Having said that, it's also important to stress that it has to be the Afghan Security Forces that are in the lead for providing security in the run-up to and during the elections in Afghanistan. 

Like last time, we stand ready to assist the Afghan Security Forces.  So ISAF forces stand ready to assist the Afghan Security Forces in their endeavours to provide security for the conduct of free, open and transparent elections in Afghanistan.  So in other words, the fact that presidential elections will be organized in the spring 2014 will not change our strategy.  We will continue to hand over lead responsibility for the security to the Afghan Security Forces with the aim to hand over full responsibility to the Afghan Security Forces by the end of 2014. 

Oana Lungescu:  Just a few minutes.  I've got two questions.  Jane's here.

Q:  Yes, Brooks Tigner, Jane's Defence Weekly.  I have a question about cyber policy.  Major NATO Allies are looking at cyber-offensive doctrines; cyber-offensive tactics.  I'm curious where NATO might go in the medium term on this.  I know you will tell us that NATO has and is developing a cyber-defensive strategy. But that is not the focus of my question. The focus of my question is cyber-offensive. And that is:  Does it make it sense and is it in the logic of defence planning that major NATO Allied countries, US in the lead but also France and the UK are looking at this if needed but not NATO?  Thank you.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:  It makes perfectly [sic] sense to have a division of labour between NATO as an alliance and individual NATO Allies.  I have to stress that it is a major responsibility for individual Allies to protect their systems effectively.  And it's their national decision to develop an effective cyber-defence. As regards NATO, we are in the process of strengthening our cyber-security.  And you're right it is a defensive strategy because we want to defend ourselves against attacks on NATO systems.  So we have improved and we will continue to strengthen the security of our information and communication systems. 

We're also in the process of considering how NATO as an alliance could provide assistance to individual Allies if they so request. You mentioned some of the major or some of the bigger Allies.  Yes, big Allies may have the capacity; may have the resources to provide an effective cyber-defence on their own.  But other Allies may not have the same capacity and...  And they might be interested in getting assistance from the Alliance as such.  So if so requested, I think it would be a good idea for NATO as an alliance to be able to provide such assistance.  So with all respect, I have to focus on what is actually our approach, and that is the defensive approach; because it is a cyber-defence.

Q:  Just a small clarification though.  A big Ally is launching cyber-offence and turns to NATO to provide support for defensive purposes, aren't we crossing over the line here; and things are getting very fussy (sic)... fuzzy aren't we?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen:   No, it's quite... it's a theoretical question you are asking me now.  In practical life, it doesn't create any problems.  As I told you, we are preparing strengthened defence of NATO cyber-systems so to speak.  Individual Allies are responsible for effective protection of their systems.  And it's a national decision how they want to do that.  I added to that that there may be Allies who would like NATO as an alliance to be able to provide assistance if they so request.  And I have to tell you that the work that takes place within NATO takes place on the basis of this defensive strategy; because it is a cyber-defence.  So though the premise for your question is differently, I stick to what is actually our approach.

Oana Lungescu: And last question to the Danish News Agency.

Q:  Mina Skall from the Danish News Agency.  I'm sure you're aware of the recent report published by the International Crisis Group on Afghanistan.  So I would like to hear whether their conclusion that there is a risk that the Afghan Government may collapse after the end of the ISAF operation makes you rethink anything, your approach to Afghanistan? And, of course, your reaction to the threat from today that Afghanistan might throw the ICG out of Afghanistan?

Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First of all, I don't share the pessimistic views expressed in the report from the International Crisis Group.  And I think the main weakness in the report from the group is the fact that they don't take into account that the international community has committed itself to assisting Afghanistan also after 2014, assisting Afghanistan in building strengthened capacity to improve governance, to make the provision of basic services to the Afghan people more effective. 

I don't think the International Crisis Group has taken that into account.  So I don't share the pessimistic views expressed in that report.  I discussed this matter with President Karzai during my recent visit to Kabul.  It goes without saying that he... he doesn't agree with the International Crisis Group.  And he reassured me that the Afghan Government will step up its efforts to improve governance, to fight corruption, to provide basic services to the Afghan people in the most efficient manner. 

But having said that, I'm also a strong supporter of freedom of expression. And though I don't agree with the International Crisis Group, obviously the International Crisis Group has the right to express its views.  And I think any democracy, including Afghanistan, profits from an open, transparent and critical debate of how we could possibly make governance better and made the provision of basic services more efficient.

Oana Lungescu:  Thank you very much.