From the event

  • Weekly press briefing by the NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai

16 Jul. 2007

Press briefing

by NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai

Colleagues, thanks for coming in. I'll try to keep it brief, because amazingly for Brussels, it's a nice July day and this will be, I think, the last briefing I'll hold before the summer break, for those of you and us who are having a summer break. But I did want to give you one last chance to grill me like a rotisserie chicken before... to make me really appreciate my vacation.

So let me brief you quickly on four issues and then I'll be happy to take your questions.

Just to skip, if I could, lightly over the Council, there were no particular briefers, no outside briefers there today. It was the usual discussion of NATO operations and missions.

But right now the Secretary General is meeting bilaterally, before a Council meeting, with Mr. Jean-Pierre Jouyet. That's J-O-U-Y-E-T. He is the State Secretary for European Affairs at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As I said, he will be meeting with the North Atlantic Council starting at 3:30, to present the priorities of the EU presidency for the upcoming months in the area of European security and defence, as well as relations with NATO.

And while he has not yet given the speech, I have an early copy in my hand and I don't want to obviously give away what it is that he wants to say, but he will outline, in general terms, the French priorities for ESDP and that includes relations between the EU and NATO. The French view that the European defence effort could be enhanced, with a focus on European capabilities. And that focus on European capabilities is certainly seen by the French presidency as having a benefit for NATO as well. A stronger European set of capabilities would have clear benefits for making for a stronger NATO. A view, I might add, which is fully shared in NATO Headquarters.

He will list the set of measures that the presidency will set as its objectives for reinforcing the military and civilian capacities for NATO... sorry, for the European Union. These reflect very much what I think you will have seen in Bernard Kouchner's speech, that he gave in Paris last week at which the Secretary General spoke as well.

He will list, as I mentioned, clear capability projects for Europe that France intends, as president of the European Union to enhance, including in the domain of... the maritime domain, crisis management, et cetera, mentioning restructuring of the European defence capabilities. And finally, going to some detail about the relations between NATO and the European Union. You know that France hosted this conference, which I have just mentioned, which was focusing very much on this issue.
Yeah, so that's pretty much it. We will see what exactly he says, but that's a little preview of what we expect him to say in the next 25 minutes.

Second, let me also preview something which isn't on your calendar and that is September 18th and 19th in London an informal, and I would say extremely informal meeting of NATO Defence Ministers, to discuss what we call transformation. In other words, improvements to the defence capabilities of the Alliance. This is an initiative that was first brought forward by Secretary of Defence Des Browne at the Bucharest Summit, but this will be a NATO Defence Ministers meeting, which will be focused exclusively, for the moment anyway, according to current planning, on defence transformation.

What does that mean? For example, improving capabilities. For example, we have great difficulty, this is no secret to any of you, in finding ways to deploy sufficient numbers of helicopters for our operation in Afghanistan. This is a problem which is also faced by the United Nations. It's also faced by the European Union. There are clearly ways in which we can improve the availability of helicopters. France and Germany together have proposed an initiative which is under discussion  to enhance the availability of helicopters, including providing funding for upgrades, improved training, finding better ways to access the fleet of helicopters that are available to NATO in such a way as they'd be useable in the field.

Another issue to be discussed is simple usability. In other words, how do we, for example, with regard to land forces, increase the number of land forces that are available for operations and sustainable over long periods of time? Again, if you count the various operations which NATO countries are engaged in, not just Alliance operations, but also national operations, EU operations, UN operations, there is a pressure on land forces which certainly indicates that we should have a discussion on how to improve... or increase the numbers of available land forces and improve their deployability.

So, in essence, this will be a transformation ministerial, informal, sparked by the United Kingdom, a NATO meeting.

Third issue I want to raise, which is brought to my attention by one of our colleagues is what I think is a inaccurate report, what is inaccurate reporting in Pakistan and in India, from what I can see, about NATO troop movements near the border.

Let me be very clear. There is not, nor is there going to be, an incursion of NATO troops into Pakistan. There is no planning for that. There is no mandate for that. And there is no troop movement in that direction.

So let us be very clear. Let me be very clear to the Pakistani press, to the Indian press, to the international press. There is no planning for, no intention for, no mandate for an incursion of NATO troops into Pakistan.

Finally, and then I'm happy to take your questions, to repeat what I said to Reuters yesterday, because I know a couple of you had raised this with me, so I'll just say it up front. The Secretary General has expressed his concern and disquiet about the Russian Federation's admission of having flown... overflown Georgian territory with four fighter aircraft, I believe it was last week, which was not within the mandate of the peacekeeping troops that are there.

The Secretary General calls on all parties, and that includes the Russian Federation, to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia and calls on all parties to take steps to de-escalate tension and engage in dialogue, to try to address the issues that are causing so much tension now in that region.
That's all I wanted to say. I'm happy to take your questions, on any subject.

Q: Ahto Lobjakas, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. Just very briefly, when you say there are no NATO troops amassing on the Pakistani border, do you mean, to... do you mean to rule out the presence of any western troops there, or do you mean to say that it's NATO and the rest of it is open.

Appathurai: No, I speak for NATO. I don't speak for anyone else. I have absolutely no information of anyone intending incursions into Pakistani territory, nor... I did not say there was no military activity in the region, but I can say there is no unusual military activity in that region.

Q: Just to follow up on that and then a separate question.
Appathurai: Yeah.

Q: Does that mean that if anyone's firing from Afghanistan into Pakistan it's not NATO troops? I see the distinction with incursion and firing...

Appathurai: Yes. I can say that from NATO ISAF point of view, they have the right to fire back in self-defence into Pakistan if they are fired on from Pakistan. They do this, of course, in close coordination with the Pakistani military authorities so that they are aware. So they have the right to fire back if they are fired on. And there should be no doubt they do it.

Q: And very quickly on something else, a change of topic.

Appathurai: Yeah, please.

Q: It's just what I spoke to you earlier about, the transit of goods to Afghanistan. A quick look at the map shows me...

Appathurai: Yes.

Q: ...that they are going to need bilateral agreements with other countries apart from Russia in order for trucks, trains, anything to get there.

Appathurai: Yes.

Q: Is that in place? How is that moving?

Appathurai: This is a discussion, a question of land transit. As you know, at Bucharest NATO and the Russian Federation agreed on, or at least the Russian Federation signed the paperwork necessary for a land transit agreement for the transit of non-lethal goods through the Russian Federation in support of the ISAF mission. But as Chris quite rightly points out, Russia does not border on Afghanistan and the latest information I have, which was from yesterday was, that was a step. It has been taken. The next step is discussion with, in essence, Central Asian countries, to have the necessary, there's a better word, but the necessary transit arrangements to allow the goods to go all the way through to Afghanistan.

Those discussions are ongoing. They are not complete and so there is, at present no... there are no... none of these non-lethal goods flowing through Russia to Afghanistan yet.

Q: James, I have a figure here that says the number of attacks on foreign troops in Afghanistan is up 40 percent compared to last year. Can you confirm that figure, and what's the cause of the deterioration of the security situation in Afghanistan? And also it looks like now that Japan is seriously thinking about doing some mission on the ground in Afghanistan. What's your assessment of that? Thank you.

Appathurai: Thank you. It is true that attacks, according to the latest information, are up in the east of the country, and that's an important distinction, about 40 percent over the same period last year. So yes, that number is about right.

What is the cause of it? Well, there are a number of causes. You have heard me say some of this before, but I'll say it again. First, there are well over 10,000 more troops in Afghanistan than there were 18 months ago. And they have pushed out into a whole host of areas where there was no international military presence before, and they are deliberately going, of course, into areas that have been under Taliban control or that has certainly not been under government control.

As a result they have stirred up opposition and have received response by... principally by suicide attack, roadside bomb. Principally by roadside bomb.

So that is one reason why, and it is not an insignificant reason why.

Secondly, certainly in the east there is concern, and I think that that is now a relatively widely-shared concern, that the absence... that there is not enough pressure on militants in the frontier provinces, in Pakistan, and that as a result they are using these areas as safe havens in which to rest, reconstitute and then launch attacks into Afghanistan.

And that is a concern, of course, that is now being quite publicly expressed. Not just by NATO, but by many NATO governments.
As for Japan, yes, I understand that the Japanese government has sent, or is sending a reconnaissance mission to Afghanistan to assess what more might be done including on the ground, not just naval support. It is 100 percent, of course, for the Japanese government to decided what it is that they wish to do. NATO welcomes the support from our partners. Japan is a very important partner. Has been financially providing significant amount of funding through the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, for reconstruction and development work.

If Japan wishes to do more, as I say they will certainly meet with a very welcome hand from NATO.

Q: James, it looks like in new written security concept or defence strategy Russia wrote down that possible enlargement of NATO, including Ukraine and Georgia consists of a direct threat to the Russians' national interests. So that have Russian side inform you about that, and what would be your reaction on that?

Appathurai: I don't have any information that there's been a formal briefing to NATO on the new Russian defence strategy. We haven't had a NATO-Russia Council meeting since it was approved. There is one coming up in the next two weeks, so we will see whether Ambassador Rogozin chooses to brief allies on that.

What I can say on that idea, which is of course one which both President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin have made regularly, is that NATO very clearly does not share the view that enlargement poses a threat to anyone. I might add, that we have had since 1949, successive rounds of enlargement. NATO's grown from 12 to 26, soon 28, hopefully soon 29, and at no stage has this posed a threat to Euro-Atlantic security. We believe that enlargement first promotes democratic reform, and second, then locks it in through membership and this cannot be seen as a menace to anyone.

And final point, of course, it is an expression of the democratic will of the countries that want to join. And it is not for any third party to tell them that they cannot express their democratic belief.

I think we were there. Well, okay, we'll go there.

Q: Okay, thank you. So you can say something more about this plan to revamp the image of NATO and that is true that you will hire even Stopford, Michael Stopford since August. Thank you.

Appathurai: Well, let me be clear on this subject. Mr. Stopford, I mean, I read the article which we all read. Mr. Stopford is not being brought in to revamp the image of NATO. So let us be very clear on this. He's the Deputy Assistant Secretary General, or he will be a Deputy Assistant Secretary General with clear responsibilities, in essence, for upgrading the tools that NATO has for communicating. He will consolidate them, he will improve them. He's going to...(inaudible)  his job, and this is for the Assistant Secretary General of course to decide very finally, but I think he is already aware that he will be upgrading the capabilities that NATO has to do communications.

NATO is not a washing powder and it doesn't need rebranding. But we can always do better in communicating what we do and I say this not just because I'm being paid to say it. I really do believe that NATO sells itself. If you explain what NATO does and explain it in a way that actually reaches people, you have a pretty good story to sell... to tell. And what we will be doing, or we are already doing through tools like NATO TV, is trying to move onto new platforms, more modern platforms. And I think every international organization does this. To explain better what it is that we do.

The UN has its own television channel, as far as I'm aware. UN TV... the EU has a very sophisticated and modern communications capability equipment. We are not quite there. And Mr. Stopford will have, as his primary responsibility, to give us that kind of modern 21st Century platform through which to deliver what I think is an already good message on NATO.

Q: Hello.

Appathurai: Go ahead.

Q: Hello, James. You said Mr. Jouyet is in the NATO Headquarters, have meeting with Secretary General now?

Appathurai: Sorry, which...

Q: The French...

Appathurai: The State Secretary.

Q: Mr. Jouyet, yes.

Appathurai: Yes.

Q: Has he raised any specific measures to strengthen the relationship between European Union ESDP and NATO?

Appathurai: Well, he probably will. He hasn't started yet. But yes, I'm anticipating that he will raise specific measures, but I can't really report on that until he's actually done it. The meeting only starts in ten minutes. So sorry, I'd give you more, but I don't think he wants me reading out his speech just yet. (Laughs).

Q: James, back to Eastern Pakistan... Eastern Afghanistan, sorry.

Appathurai: Yes.

Q: Is relation with these attack...

Appathurai: Yes.

Q: ...the attack over the weekend...

Appathurai: Yes.

Q: ...has NATO done any post mortem of what happened there? I mean, was there mistake on the ISAF side going to these advance positions? Any proof or belief or idea if they attackers were coming from the other side of the border from Pakistan, and in any case, for how long is going to be NATO incapable of reaction when we all know the real side of the Taliban is on the other side of the border. That is no reason to keep hidden all the forces on this side of Afghanistan where every time that they (inaudible...) attack a day, run to the other side and we are unable to anything. So for how long can we keep this situation? Thank you.

Appathurai: Thank you. To explain, these... there are a significant number of these, what they're called combat outposts. These are not forward-operating bases. They are small outposts, established, as I say, a significant number of areas, in this case, quite close to the Pakistani border, in order to establish a presence in areas where there had been no presence before, to do some patrolling, to establish relations with the local community, and in this case, of course, they proved to be a target to a significant number of militants in what was a relatively atypical kind of attack, in that they normally resort to, as you know, suicide bombs, roadside bombs in particular.

There is, of course, an analysis going on now of exactly what happened and what could be done to prevent them getting so close in future. Let us note, if I may, that this was an attack that was, though at real cost, repelled. In that they did not succeed in overrunning the facility and took dozens of casualties of their own.

That being said, this was an important.. or at least a significant event, and on which is being looked at carefully to draw the necessary lessons.

As to what's happening on the other side of the border, there is not discussion in NATO and we need to be clear about NATO military operations across the border into Pakistan. No discussion of that. The solution to the challenges inside Pakistan have to lie with the Pakistani authorities. They face the same risks from extremism that Afghanistan faces from extremism and they face it from the same group of extremists. It is therefore, I think, in our shared interest, Pakistani, Afghan and NATO, that we step up the political dialogue that is being done, that we step up military-to-military cooperation, and re-establish it where it had been diminished. And that is being done also, has been done also. And then the Secretary General will, at a certain stage in the fall, go to take the political dialogue forward with the new government.

But the short version is, no NATO operations inside Pakistan. The Pakistani authorities need to, and are working to, we hope, establish security in their own country.

Q: (Inaudible...) Pakistan from Pakistan...

Appathurai: Let's wait and see. I want to wait and see what... they haven't sent up report yet. I've heard hints, but we don't know (inaudible...).

Q: Yes, James, concerning this request of COMISAF of... for some AWACS planes...

Appathurai: Yes.

Q: Does it meet full the approval of the full NAC or only the countries providing the personnel for crews?

Appathurai: The request... first to tell you where it is remains within the military chain of command for assessment and recommendation.

If, and I say if, it were to be taken forward by SHAPE, the military headquarters, it would need for a deployment of AWACS outside of NATO territory, it would need the approval of the NAC. That's the process.

Please. No, sorry, behind and then we'll come up here.

Q: It's a follow-up on the increasing of big things in the east of Afghanistan. I would like to ask you if you could give us the exact number of soldiers that has been killed and if you have any figures on the rest of the country?

Appathurai: You mean the total number that have been killed in the east since...

Q: This period they were talking before that this augmentation of the 40 percent.

Appathurai: Yeah. I actually really don't know the answer. I can find it out, but I don't know it off the top of my head so I'll have to go and check. If you call the office a bit later we'll have it.

Q: Okay, back to Ukraine and Georgia.

Appathurai: Mm-hmm.

Q: As usual. So two questions. First of all, right now we have an exercise, Sea Breeze, in the Ukraine. As far as I understand this is not NATO(?) exercise, it's... how should I say bilateral or multilateral exercises, but in Russian and many Ukrainian medias we may read that this is the next exercise of the NATO in the Ukraine, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So can you comment the situation? I mean, the informational coverage of this exercise. Don't you think that this is a lack of informational coverage, I don't know, from Ukrainian or from NATO side, from the military who organizes it.

And okay... then I'll ask my question.

Appathurai: Yeah, please, please.

Q: So next question about the exercises, if I'm not wrong, immediate response in Georgia, if my translation is right.

Appathurai: Yeah. Yeah.

Q: So this exercise, it's a NATO exercise... Not at all.

Appathurai: No (inaudible...).

Q: So okay, comment please too, because the time of this exercise is not... is not very good in the overall situation in Georgia right now, and at the same time we have Russian exercises from... in the same region from the Russian side.

Appathurai: Yes.

Q: So could you please comment this whole situation. Thank you.

Appathurai: Thank you. No, you're quite right, Sea Breeze is not a formal NATO exercise, and it's one that has been held for many years.

I think the challenge that we face, if we are being very honest, is that the issue of NATO membership, possible NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia has become highly politicized in Ukraine and Georgia. And as a result for many parties multilateral military activities can be used for political purposes.

It is in everybody's interest that our militaries are able to work together, that are interoperable, are effective. Ukraine is the only partner that contributes to each and every one of NATO's operations and missions.

We will continue to train with... NATO countries, let me put it that way, NATO countries will continue to train with the Ukrainian military because it makes sense. It makes sense for us and it makes sense for them. And I would certainly hope that to the extent possible those who are using this for political purposes should stop because this has an interest for all the parties involved entirely, or at least let's say, largely separate from any discussions on membership.

Immediate response, again, this is not a NATO exercise. This is a multilateral exercise. And I really can't speak to it very much. I know that it has been long planned, but it did not... it was not planned by any NATO Headquarters. It was not approved by any NATO Headquarters. And nor was that ever the intention. I can tell you my own country conducts many multilateral exercises like that with many countries without it having passed through SHAPE or any other headquarters.

I think it was back there. Indeed, and then we'll come back.

Q: I have politically a question about in this area does NATO engage a dialogue with Taliban, with tribe leaders? Does this dialogue produce any kind of concrete, let's say, result. And more generally, even in the west some Ministers or command said does NATO has any exit strategy or is deploying there and conducted war there forever?

Appathurai: Thank you. First, NATO does not engage as an organization or ISAF does not engage, in discussions with the Taliban. Do NATO forces have discussions with tribal leaders? I couldn't say for sure yes, but I have little doubt that they do. It is their job to engage with the local communities in which they are. They need to meet with the leadership in the areas in which they are operate. Afghanistan, of course, has a very significant tribal element to its society. And I think it is only realistic that, for example, when local shuras, as they call them, tribal councils, are held, that NATO forces, where appropriate, engage with them.

So not only do they speak to tribal leaders, but they should speak to tribal leaders because that is how they engage with their local community.

Exit strategy. No, NATO doesn't have an exit strategy, but that doesn't mean that NATO wishes to stay in definitely. In fact, I can tell you from the bottom of my heart NATO has no desire to stay in Afghanistan indefinitely. This is not easy for any of us to do.

We have a mandate from the United Nations. NATO will stay as long as necessary to fulfil that mandate and not one day longer, I can tell you.

What does that mean in practical terms? It means we need, at a certain stage, to move to a phase where the Afghans are capable of providing for their own security. What does that mean, again, in practical terms? It means training and equipping the Afghan National Security forces so that they can increasingly take the lead and we can provide support. This is what we can start to see happening already. We saw it in Arghandab, we saw it in Musa Qala. We will see it when Afghans take the lead in Kabul, operations in Kabul, which we expect to see late August.

So it's starting to happen. I don't know at what stage we can move to a next phase, but certainly we're not there yet.
But there is no intention on the part of NATO, and I can tell you that was reinforced again, at the Bucharest Summit, to leave one day too early. This is a long-term commitment and we will stay the course.

Q: Just back to the questioning on East Afghanistan. Can you tell us roughly how many of these combat outposts there are there, and while the longer term analysis is going on about some of the consequences, have commanders taken any steps either to reinforce those outposts or indeed perhaps thinking about winding some of them down?

Appathurai: The phrase I am authorized to use is a significant number. So I'm going to stick to a significant number.

The... and I'm not an operational briefer and I need to stay away from this. So I don't know if they've taken any steps. That's just the truth. They may well have, but I think you need to talk to Mark to get the answer there.

I think we'll go to Chris and then we'll come up here.

Q: Just along the same topic, actually. What happened to the six coordination outposts, three on either side of the border? Are they working? What do they do? Who goes there? I know they're tripartite, but all three, Pakistan, NATO, Afghanistan, forces meet in all six of those border posts? What happens there?

Appathurai: My understanding is that we have not moved beyond what I briefed you, I think, a few weeks ago. And that is three have been established on the Afghan side of the border. The three on the Pakistani side of the border have not just been established. They are tripartite so you have NATO, Afghan and Pakistani officials, personnel, there. And that's where we are.

Q: (Inaudible...). Just brief (inaudible) of the Japanese possible military contribution. Did NATO make any suggestion to the Japanese side? And secondary, on the climate change, Secretary General cited climate change as one of the main (inaudible) NATO is facing. Since then could you tell us a little bit update of what's going on in NATO?

Appathurai: Thank you. I am not aware that NATO made any active suggestions to the Japanese authorities, that they should engage more deeply. I think this was an initiative from Tokyo, one which we, of course welcome, but I think, unless I'm mistaken, it came exclusively from Tokyo.

That being said, I think if they wish to discuss with us, and probably have done on the ground, where Japanese personnel might wish to find their place in Afghanistan I'm quite sure ISAF would be open to have that discussion.

Climate change. Yes, he gave that speech. We have two groups within NATO who provide the kind of analysis that he addressed. One is an economic analysis division, which looks at, of course, the security-slash-economic... or the economic aspects of security issues. And I do believe they have already looked at the possible (inaudible) of climate change.

The second is we have what used to be called a science division. These are people who do scientific projects. Again, with a security aspect, and I know that they have done some work in this regard.

I do not believe there has been a Council discussion on it yet. Oh sorry, yes,  we have a policy planning unit, which has also provided studies to the Secretary General.

As to active policy decisions or discussions I don't know that there have been any. There has been a number of studies and informal discussions, but no decisions taken on this issue.
Thanks. Please.

Q: Yeah, realizing that Mr. Jouyet is only about 11 minutes into his presentation...

Appathurai: Yeah.

Q: ...I wondered if going in the Secretary General has any thoughts about the renewed French call for a built-up EU strategic planning operational headquarters in Brussels and in the area of capabilities his thoughts on the French desire to build up a fleet of EU-operated spy satellites?

Appathurai: I have not heard him make a comment on either of these issues, so for the moment I will not make a comment on either of these issues. But I'll check with him and see what he has to stay.

No? Okay. Folks, you're free. Free from me until September. Think about that! (Laughs).

Q: There will be no NAC meetings anymore...

Appathurai: There will be NAC meetings all the way through August, so Carmen may well choose to do a briefing. But it won't be me.