Updated: 30-Oct-2006 NATO Speeches


8 June 2005

News conference

by the NATO Secretary General and Abdul Rahim Wardak,
Minister of Defence of Afghanistan after the meeting
of the North Atlantic Council at the level of Defence Ministers
with non-NATO ISAF contributors

8 June 2006 - NATO HQ
Defence Ministers Meetings
Audio file of the press conference

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer: Very good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Let me also say here how much we welcome... we have welcomed, and I welcome again, Minister Wardak.

I think we’ve had several firsts here today, as they say. It's, of course, the first time an Afghan Defence Minister did attend a meeting of NATO Defence Ministers. Better said, it was the first ever ministerial meeting of all the countries, all the nations, allies and non-allies alike, participating in what is always labelled NATO's priority number one, and that is the NATO ISAF mission in Afghanistan .

I think I'm correct in saying that we now see 37 nations, NATO and non-NATO, participating in this operation. I think, and Minister Wardak will correct me when I'm wrong, I think the Minister heard one clear message from all the nations gathered around the table this morning. We do stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Afghanistan to help them build a better future, because it's about them, of course, and for them we're doing this.

Now you know the NATO-led mission, NATO ISAF will soon expand to the south of the country. We are doubling the number of troops there. We're working together with the Afghan National Army for which, of course, Minister Wardak carries prime responsibility. We are doubling the number of troops. We are helping the Afghan government to establish itself in what has been, until now, a space which was relatively ungoverned. And we'll stay the course. We'll stay the course.

Are we meeting resistance? Yes, we meet resistance, of course. Because there are spoilers of the democratic process in Afghanistan who do not like to see NATO and partners coming to the south. They want progress to stop.

Taliban, yes. Certainly Taliban. But also narco-traffickers, other criminals. But let no one doubt NATO's resolve, nor doubt our capability to carry out this mission because that is exactly what we'll do.

So the NATO ISAF mission has the forces it needs, it has the capabilities, and it has the robust rules of engagement and the possibility to act robustly if necessary.

Let me add that the story of Afghanistan , as we discussed it today, is of course not just a security story. It is also, and that is as important, a story of development. And if we look at the progress, the enormous progress Afghanistan has made that is easily... too easily forgotten, I think, ladies and gentlemen, nowadays.

Afghanistan has a democratically elected president. It has a Parliament. It has provincial councils. It has functioning state institutions. And it's not that long ago, it's not that long ago, that there was a different regime in Afghanistan which did not make it possible for six million children to go to school, and of which two million girls. So people's lives are getting better in Afghanistan, but there's much more work to be done in Afghanistan, and there it is important that NATO, the European Union, the United Nations, the G8 group of industrial-rich nations also are standing shoulder to shoulder to see that this is a longer-term commitment vis-à-vis the people and the government of Afghanistan.

NATO will do its part. NATO will help provide security, but that's only one leg of the stool. And there are other legs. And one of the other legs are indeed, as I said, the international community and I think coordination in this respect is of great importance.

And what is the fourth leg of the stool? That is, of course, the Afghan government of which Minister Wardak is an eminent representative here today with us in Brussels .

Also the Afghan government and we have had a clear signal from Minister Wardak this morning, will take active steps and must take active steps to root out corruption, provide good governance, and build up the confidence of the Afghan peopled. And I don't doubt, and the Allies do not doubt, and our partners do not doubt, that the Afghan government will exactly do that.

So this was, in brief, or perhaps not so briefly, the gist of our meeting this morning. Strong support. The realization that lasting security and stability in Afghanistan is not easy and will not be easy, but on the other hand it is necessary.

We cannot afford, and we will not accept, to let the Taliban get their way, because we all know the price of that. That price has been paid in Afghanistan by many million of Afghanis and that price should not be paid again. And that is the reason that NATO will stay the course, and that is the reason we will succeed in supporting the government and the Afghan people.

Having said that, it's my pleasure to turn the floor over to Minister Wardak for his statement. Minister, please.

ABDUL RAHIM WARDAK: Thank you, Secretary General.

I was actually honoured to be able to participate for the first time as a non-NATO member in the meeting of the ministers here in Brussels today. Throughout the meeting I think I was overwhelmed totally by the support which was given by every participant to support our struggle in Afghanistan , to make Afghanistan once again a useful and positive member of international community and model of prosperity, peace, stability and tolerance and moderation and democracy.

As far as the NATO expansion was concerned, from the beginning it was a move which was welcomed by the Afghan government and we are looking forward to this expansion and we are fully confident that the NATO is quite capable to take... to expand to Stage 3 and later on to Stage 4 and as far as the Afghan security forces are concerned, I think they will closely coordinate and cooperate with the ISAF forces in Afghanistan to make the mission a full success.

We're also very appreciative of the recent robust rules of engagement and the removal of the caveats and also the providing of the OMLTs which will be directly helping the Afghan National Army. OMLTs are these Operational Mentor Liaison Teams which will work together with Afghan National Army.

We will stick, as far as the Afghan government is concerned, to the London Compact, I mean, to improve the security situation, improve the governments and also to improve reconstruction. And as far as the Afghan people and government is concerned I think they will try, I mean, to take maximum advantage of this environment of international cooperation.

I have experienced the times which we were totally left isolated, so now it is our moral duty to exploit the attention which we are getting from NATO and the rest of the international community for the good of our people in the future.

And we know now we have a joint venture, a common struggle which is supported by NATO and we are fully confident that we will be victorious and we will prevail eventually and we will have a peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan .

Thank you.

Questions & Answers.

Q: Právo Daily Newspaper, the Czech Republic . Minister Wardak, how would you evaluate the capabilities of Afghan forces in the long run and the perspective of their growth?

Wardak: Actually, we have the potential. If we're helped... by the help which we are getting for training and equipment, by coalition and also through NATO, I think we hope that we will reach that limit which it has been defined by Bonn, accorded also in London conference, which is 70,000. Yeah, we would like, I mean, to have a nationally oriented and ethically balanced, professionally skilful and morally disciplined and operationally cohesive army, which I think will be enough for internal security threats for the time.

But at the moment, you see, our sustainability capability is so limited, so once everything... our income is improved and we have more resources, I think then, I think that time we will think to increase the number of the Afghan army if we could afford it.

But at the moment I think the international community is committed to help us to work toward a figure of 70,000.

Appathurai: Mark.

Q: Mark John from Reuters. Secretary General, in your opening remarks you said that more international help for reconstruction development was urgently needed, that the resources simply aren't there at the moment. What specifically do you see as the shortfalls at present, and what do you see needs to be happening there? Are we talking about more money? What are the shortfalls?

De Hoop Scheffer: It is a matter of the fact that we have to realize that, of course, we are there as NATO, creating, as I said, a climate of security and stability, but that Afghanistan is a nation is of course in the face also where it's trying to set up an economy. In other words, we are confronted with a development cooperation scenario where you cannot only give emergency aid and assistance, but it should be structural as well.

And I know that, for instance, the European Union is doing a lot, that the UN is doing a lot. My plea is a plea for continued commitment, because if that's not the case, and in that respect I think more could be done indeed, the answer is that NATO cannot by itself solve the problems in this development scenario, the phase Afghanistan is going through.

In other words, if we say, and we do, of course, that the NATO ISAF mission is of course a mission to create security, but is also very much focused, if you look at its mandate, on reconstruction and development. NATO cannot operate in a void. So NATO needs two things.

First of all, and we've had this reconfirmed by Minister Wardak, we need, of course, the full support and cooperation of the Afghan government, it's Afghan ownership and Afghan leadership under which we operate. We have a democratically elected president. We have a government. I mean, we're not coming to tell the Afghan people there, or the Afghan government what to do. But in this scenario I think a continued commitment is important and that is the background of my strong plea to implement the compact, as mentioned by Minister Wardak, and to realize that this is really a longer term commitment.

Appathurai: Question there.

Q: Secretary General, (inaudible)... Danish Television. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly got a report recently saying that the situation is deteriorating very much in the south of Afghanistan . Indeed, it also says that in some areas the Taliban has taken over. Do you think that this is the right time for the Americans to pull back troops?

De Hoop Scheffer: Well, point number one is that I do not have the impression that the Americans are pulling back troops. And if they did, let me repeat, that's NATO ISAF is coming in with twice as many forces in the south as there were coalition forces. So you definitely cannot say that the net result is negative. The net result is very positive.

Let Minister Wardak have his say on the situation in the south. To me it's clear that we are tested. We are tested. NATO is coming in, NATO is coming in robustly and massively and we are tested by Taliban and others, because they don't like to see us there, because we're coming to create this climate of security and stability, and at the same time we're going to see that we can assist the Afghan people in increasing their standards of living.

In other words, yes, we'll be tested, but we'll react robustly, as has already been done by British forces, Canadian forces, Dutch forces and nobody should be under any illusion that NATO or NATO ISAF will be chased away from that region. We will not be, and you know, and let me stress that once again, that on the basis of the operational plan allies have agreed we will and we can implement and execute this mission.

Appathurai: We've got time for... sorry, one last question, short.

Q: Leon Brunneau, Agence France-Presse. A question for the Minister. Are we paying a little bit... when you see a little bit the resurgence of the Taliban in the south and all this, are we paying the price now for the fact that basically there were no international troops in the south doing reconstruction, whatever, rather than anti-terrorism activities, and that NATO also took its time and decided to go north, west and then south only now? This is five years after the toppling of the Taliban government. Do you think we're paying the price for that absence now?

Wardak: Yeah, actually I will... I will not call it the resurgence of Taliban. As the Secretary General put it, I think there has been an attempt by Taliban and their allies, I mean, to take advantage of this time of transition between coalition and ISAF forces and they really wanted, I mean, to influence the public opinion in some of the European capitals. That's why I think what they have had, I mean, they have thrown all their resources and personnel into action, I mean, to have impact.

But I think we have taken the necessary measures. I have been just coming from that region about three, four days back, so I was there, and I think we will have maybe one or two months which there will be a little bit of crisis, but with the measures already taken, also with the operation planned jointly with ISAF and Afghan National Army, I think that in a short period I think you will see a drastic change, change in the security situation, in the south. And I'm quite confident that what will happen, it is so simple, that as the Secretary General put it, I mean, the number of the international forces and also the Afghan forces, is going to be so many times more than what was there before.

Appathurai: I'm afraid that's all we have time for.

De Hoop Scheffer: Thank you very much.

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