From the event

  • Weekly press briefing by the NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai

3 Sep. 2007

Press briefing

by NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai and video teleconference by General Robert W. Cone, Commander of the Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan.

JAMES APPATHURAI (Spokesman, NATO):  (...) to after what was at least my summer break.  I'm guessing many of you were working during this time.  Let me apologize to those of you who, to whom I didn't get back yesterday.  Pascal as-tu...?  Yes.

Because, yes, I was otherwise engaged.  And it has been a little bit busy.  But I really do appreciate seeing you here.  I know it's not easy to get into this room now.  So a little bit Lara Croft Tomb Raider to make it.  But in a month or so it will look very, very nice.  Hopefully, like a little boutique hotel.  We'll have baskets of green apples and nice carpets.

Let me, because we don't have that much time, run quickly through some issues, and then I'll be happy to take your questions.  At two o'clock we have General Cone, at five o'clock, Antonio Maria Costa, so some of you may have other engagements as well, so it'll be a busy day here.

The North Atlantic Council is still meeting on Agenda Item Number One, and that's Afghanistan. The discussion is with the Supreme Allied Commander, it is a broad discussion of the security environment but also of in particular an issue that is of concern to the Secretary-General and to the ambassadors, to Ambassador Gentilini and to all concerned, and that is the issue of civilian casualties that has taken up a substantial amount of time. The ambassadors, like the Secretary-General and the SACEUR are concerned that both the reality and the perception of the problem of civilian casualties should be addressed. We always do. It is now being discussed again because it is no secret there have been a number of reports of incidents over the past days and weeks. There was of course a shared view that each and every civilian casualty is one too many, that they need to be reduced to the absolute minimum, and that an essential part of that needs to be stronger coordination between international forces and the Afghan forces, and increasing engagement and then leadership by Afghan forces. That is precisely what will be on the agenda tomorrow when Defence Minster Wardak will meet with the Secretary-General and the North Atlantic Council here at NATO headquarters. That will be the principle issue of discussion. Let me be clear: the principle issue of discussion will be greater coordination between international forces and Afghan forces with of course an important element, and that is increasing the size and support for the Afghan National Army, something which NATO had been doing for quite some time. I don't know for the moment if there will be a press opportunity. I don't think so, but we are still in discussion with the Secretary-General to see if there is an opportunity there.

Another issue which came up of course was the close relationship, particularly in the south, between narcotics and the insurgency. The geographic coincidence is not a coincidence, and we have… our allies have been discussing how within the existing operational plan NATO can maximize its effort and support of the counter-narcotics lead by Afghan forces. That will be of course very much what Antonio Maria Costa will be discussing today with the North Atlantic Council. As well you have seen his report.

Second issue: Agence France-Presse has been as usual… as usual very, very proactive in setting out the… or flagging up the visit of the North Atlantic Council to Georgia. So let me be second in line and give you as much information as I can. The North Atlantic Council led by the Secretary-General will indeed visit Georgia on the 15th and 16th of this month. This is a long-planned visit. Let me be clear: a long-planned visit. The Council will do a number of things, as I say led by the Secretary-General. They will meet with the president, with the prime minister, and other senior political leaders. They will also meet with not just the government but the broader Georgian community that includes civil society, it includes members of the opposition, and they will then take a number or do a couple of things which I want to put into context. As you know the NATO allies have agreed to establish a NATO-Georgia Commission; that was decided by the foreign ministers at their meeting in the middle of August. They also agreed or have agreed for some time in the context of partnership for peace arrangements that we have with Georgia, so let me be clear. These are long-standing arrangements to provide support to Georgia with regard to defence planning, and that is how Georgia should develop its defence capabilities. They will therefore, allies will… sorry, in that regard a team has been to… to Georgia from our defence planning division to assess Georgian requirements with regard to the development of their defence capability obviously in the context in which they find themselves now, and obviously on request of the Georgians. And that team is providing an assessment of what it is that they require.

We are also providing support to the Georgian government with regard to their air picture, in other words their capability to see what is going on in their own air space. Let me stress again: this is a long-standing project. When the allies arrive in Georgia, they will get a briefing on Georgia's participation in what is called the Air Situation Data Exchange System. It has been connected last week. The Air Situation Data Exchange System will support the safety of air traffic in Georgia. Georgia will have an insight, a better visibility on its own air picture, and at the same time NATO will have access to data gathered by Georgian radars of its territory. And as I say the system was connected last week.

There will be also the official launch of a new NATO PfP trust fund project in Georgia. Again, a long-standing project designed to assist in the development of Georgia's defence capabilities. Not all allies, a number of allies, and I can't name them for you I'm afraid have signed up to this. It will be officially launched there.

Have I forgotten anything? I'm sure Robert is desperately writing something… oh yes! That is important. Also sparked by the recent events, NATO authorized a deployment of a civil emergency planning support team to Georgia in order to help the Georgian government to assess the damage to civil infrastructure and to advise on mitigating measures. The CEP support team visited Georgia from the 20th to the 23rd of August, provided advice to the Georgians on immediate needs, and NATO's civil emergency planning team have provided coordination of the assistance that allies have provided. Humanitarian assistance our allies have provided to Georgians from bandages to blankets to tents to beds, et cetera et cetera. This information is not classified. The rest of the programme remains to be confirmed, but you get an idea of what it is that they will be doing.

Next thing: I would like to say very quickly, actually just two quick things. One is in the light of the comments made by President Putin on the build-up, Prime Minister, excuse me, thank you. Prime Minister Putin… yes, Mr. Putin yesterday on the supposed build-up of NATO forces in the Black Sea. Let me repeat what I know Carmen has said to you already. There is no NATO build-up of forces in the Black Sea. There is a temporary deployment for the purpose of a long-planned NATO exercise of six… is it four? Four, indeed, four NATO vessels. They will be conducting training on interoperability. There is no connection between this exercise and the conflict in Georgia. These are exercises are planned more than a year out. They will not be delivering assistance to Georgia. They will leave on schedule within the 21-day period, and… so in that context the remarks by Prime Minister Putin on a response, a mysterious response to this build-up are a little bit difficult to understand if the Russian Federation is looking for a pretext to take other steps. This is not a very good one.

That is all I wanted to say on… well, yeah Carmen reminds me it is worth noting that the deployment of this standing NATO maritime group is fully in compliance with the Montreux Convention, both in terms of the requirements for notification and in terms of the tonnage. This is a relatively arcane issue, I have to say, which I learned about over the past couple of days. Carmen Romero is now the NATO expert on tonnage under the Montreux Convention and will be happy to brief you on it. But it is important to stress that both within the notification requirements, the time of deployment, and the tonnage limits, this exercise like all NATO exercises in that area is fully in compliance with the appropriate legal arrangements.

That is what I had to say. I open the floor to your questions. Please.

Q: (Inaudible, Radio Latvia) United States ambassador to the NATO has said quite strongly that NATO should be more prepared to defend Baltic States after Georgia's… Russia's activities in Georgia, and how to do you see that message, does it mean that NATO has any plans about Baltics and will NATO be more… will try to be more visible in Baltic area? I mean probably sending troops or soldiers for let's say training for example? Thank you.

APPATHURAI: Thank you. I think we need to establish the baseline, and that is something that the US Ambassador to NATO, the new US Ambassador to NATO made very clear: Article Five applies to NATO members fully. There should be no question that if any NATO ally requires defence it will receive that support and that NATO has the full capability to provide collective defence to each one of its members. That includes military capability, it includes the ability to plan, to make those deployments, and after almost 60 years of providing planning or doing planning for defence of our members, that should come as no surprise.

Ambassador Volker evoked as you said and quite rightly the idea of more visible planning and planning perhaps now rather than in a different context. That is a discussion that has to be had now with the ambassadors as to exactly how, if and how, more visible planning should take place for, as he put it, the Baltic States. So let us now have that discussion. I think it will happen in the coming days and weeks. It may well come up for example at the meeting of NATO defence ministers in London which will take place on the… what's the date, Carmen? …It's the 18th, I think. Thank you. On the 18th, the evening of the 18th, so we will see. But I think that he has reflected a sentiment that is more widely shared with the alliance, and that discussion will come.

VANESSA MOCK (Dutch Radio): Just to follow up on that, James, have you had explicit requests for assistance for more visibility from NATO from any of the Baltic States?

APPATHURAI: Not that I'm aware of. There has been a discussion of having more formal, and let us put it this way: standing defence plans. In the post-Cold War context: routing planning, as opposed to if-necessary planning for the defence of all NATO states including the Baltics and other countries. That's not… how to put this?... they had not asked, as far as I'm aware of, for more visible deployments, that's not what we're talking about, but for more routine planning for the defence. That subject has come up, and there has been an exchange of views, I won't hide it from you as to whether or not it's necessary to do it in a routine way or if we were faced as an alliance with a particular situation. NATO clearly has the capability to do it and do it very quickly. So this is now what is being addressed, and we will see where the discussion ends up.

Q: James, a couple of questions first about Afghanistan. What's the current situation with Russian land transit… with the land transit through Russian territory of the non-lethal equipment for ISAF troops in Afghanistan? If I understand it's not suspended, so do you need to actually use it or not? Second question is about the assistance to Georgia. Could you please clarify the point: if the possible supply… or building of the Georgian defence capabilities, are they not in contradiction with European Code of Conduct in the trading of weapons, and the OSCE Code of Conduct which would be the supply of arms and weapons to the countries which are involved in local conflict? Thank you.

APPATHURAI: Thank you. To answer the first question: as far as I'm aware the land transit arrangements have not been suspended. That being said, in practical terms it has not yet begun precisely because NATO also has to agree similar arrangements with the central Asian states which stand between NATO and Russia and the Russian Federation. So, not suspended, but not yet in activity, but not for reasons of any dispute between NATO and Russia.

As far as possible supply or rebuilding of Georgian defence capabilities, NATO will not be as an organization, I can say this I think in general terms, supplying weapons or arms as an organization to Georgia. What NATO can do and what NATO is doing is assisting the Georgians in defining their own defence capabilities. This is as I say something which is enshrined in our PfP Agreements; something which we have done for many allies, many part… sorry, for many partners. Obviously the context is somewhat different for Georgia, but if any support is provided to the Georgian government for rebuilding its defence capabilities, A, it will be done by nations and not by NATO, except I think for particular specific possible technical capabilities. But B, I have no doubt that it will be done in full compliance with the appropriate legal frameworks. Please.

Q (Ansa Italian News Agency): I am wondering if you have some comment about the agreement just signed between Italy and Libya. According to Mr. Gaddafi, Italy will not give any more the authorization to use all the military bases on Italian territory to NATO and to USA, especially in the case of operation against Libya. So did you have already contact with the Italian government, did you clarify this point with them or what?

APPATHURAI: I have not yet spoken to the Italian delegation about this. I understand from what I've seen also in the press that Foreign Minister Frattini has said that Italy will of course continue to abide by all of its international relationships treaties and obligations; one had no doubt about that, but beyond that I've had no information from the Italian government. But we will seek to clarify.

Q: James, on the visit of the Afghanistan Defence Minister tomorrow, will there be any Pakistani officials present or will you have contact with Pakistan on this issue of civilian casualties?

APPATHURAI: Not that I'm aware of.

Q: How about the protection of the pipeline in their Caucasus-Asia regions, are there any discussions in the NATO or in NATO's neighbouring countries how to reinforce the NATO's activities to defend?

APPATHURAI: To defend the pipeline?

Q: Yes.

APPATHURAI: Well for the moment and for the foreseeable future as far as I can see NATO is not and will not be deploying forces to defend pipelines in the Caucasus. That is simply not on the agenda. Actually…  Attends, attends, il y a…

Q: May I speak French or there is no translation today?

APPATHURAI: Est-ce qu'il y a l'interprétation?  Oui, oui, elle est là, elle est là.

Q: Très bien, je vais donc justifier sa présence.  (INAUDIBLE)

INTERPRETER: The question is on Georgia. If I understood correctly: for the ships which are in the Black Sea they will leave in 21 days. When is the date they have to leave? They arrived on the 22nd of August, a difference between the Russians and NATO, the number of ships… five… one American, one German, and three Spanish. For you it's four. The US ship is a supplementary… if I understood there are two US ships which are in the Black Sea to deliver humanitarian assistance. Then there is one which is leaving and another one which will be coming. I think that the Russians have globally looked at the force. But I'm speaking only for NATO here. But I know that there are two US ships in the Black Sea but not in a NATO context, just to deliver humanitarian aid.

So will the Secretary-General listen to the Georgian authorities to obtain weapons, I think they have the right in the framework of the OSCE. On the other side it's the member nations. So NATO is going to listen to the request of Georgia, but NATO will not answer as such. NATO has no weapons to provide, but NATO can help them, can support them and determine exactly what they need.

Handelsblad had the scoop on the visit of the 15th and the 16th, it's Handelsblad leak was German but not French. It was dated Berlin, and they are speaking about AWACS. So has the AWACS who have left for Afghanistan, have they arrived or… and do we have the intention to send one on Georgia? Well for Afghanistan it's a question for the military committee, and I have not heard any discussion about AWACS for Georgia. Now to complete the need, why we need AWACS in Afghanistan, it's because the radars are not sufficient. The radars existing at the present time in Afghanistan are not sufficient. What has been connected last week is going to help as far as integrated radar system is concerned, but the control system in Georgia has been damaged and will need to be rebuilt.

Q: You have anything to say at all about the situation politically in Ukraine and how that might affect prospects for its getting an invitation for NATO?

APPATHURAI: The allies are certainly very well aware of the political situation in Ukraine. They have not made any comment on it, certainly not through me. And for the moment I would not comment on any prospects nor would I think there would be frankly an effect for the moment on our relationship with Ukraine.

I'll take two more then we'll go to the General.

Q: James, sorry if you've already answered this; I got in a bit late. I've just got a question on Article Five actually. Reading it, it says aggression against one is to be considered aggression against all et cetera, and each party is obliged to take such action as it deems necessary. My question is how binding is it? Is anyone obliged to do anything in the case of a member state being attacked?

APPATHURAI: Well it is a political commitment. Each NATO nation sets aside a substantial number of forces for Article Five contingencies. So when you do your annual defence planning, you may have your forces deployed all over the world, but within that a substantial amount are dedicated to Article Five contingencies, and would be, I say this as someone who used to do this in the defence ministry, could be, could be withdrawn. And the planning provides for that from whatever it is else that they do to go to the defence of an ally. This is done through the NATO defence planning process. It is very well structured. Each ally provides what it can in a way that is complimentary with what NATO needs for potential Article Five contingencies. So allies will each decide what it is that they do. It can be one soldier, it can be five divisions, but they have the capability in place that is pre-planned and pre-labelled to be able to provide support in a coordinated and effective way.

I have to take one more, I think it was here, and then we'll go to General Cone.

Q: Two different ones. Going back to this whole Baltic issue, just wondered in the discussions that have taken place so far whether you have noted a willingness among NATO allies to go to the (inaudible) share more visibility on behalf of NATO in that area. Secondly the defence ministers meeting in London, how much scope is there during that meeting to have any kind of decisions… discussions on how to provide more assistance to Georgia? Because I know it's usually quite a technical kind of hardware-driven event.

APPATHURAI: Well, let me address the second one first. This one's gonna be even more technical, at least part of it than normal, in that it will be… it is conceived as, and I quote an informal informal. It is at the far end of informal, very restricted. What the ministers want to do is have a very frank and open exchange amongst as closed a circle they can get, in other words themselves and maybe one or two others to discuss the principle challenges related to defence planning and defence capabilities. Why are they having problems finding helicopters for Afghanistan? Why is it that our land forces are so stretched? Something which the General is very familiar with, and how do we find ways that are politically, economically, and militarily realistic to get to meet the demands that our forces are increasingly facing? So that will be a substantial part of this meeting, and it is not intended to take decisions, it is intended to be a free exchange of views. There will be, and as I mentioned I think at the dinner, the opportunity for other issues to come up. I have absolutely no doubt that the issue of Georgia in one way or another or the implications of the Georgia situation will come up, and I think as I said it would be a great surprise to me if in that context, because that is the context in which we find ourselves, the question that Ambassador Volker raised in the FT is not brought up. But that will be I think the first opportunity in ministerial level in the new context we find ourselves, to have an exchange of views, and then we'll be able to tell you how it goes.

I'm two minutes late, but in the light behind me I see… Oh, sorry. Have we heard any of the other nations indicate an interest? I'm sorry, that was what I was trying to address at the end. There hasn't been an exchange of views certainly since the FT this morning. When we had this discussion in the past, it had been in a different context without the same sense of urgency that some nations clearly feel, and so people exchanged the relative merits of it. Now the context has changed. Some allies clearly have very strong views on this subject, so I think indeed it will be in London that we'll have the first exchange of views on this… of… in the new context.

Let me stop here. General Cone… I can't really see you, but it is a pleasure to see you again. We'll ask for the lights to be dimmed so our colleagues here can see. Can you hear us and can we hear you?


APPATHURAI: General, sorry for the delay. Let's get right to it. Thank you once again for joining us. It is always a great privilege. It was a pleasure meeting with you, myself back… when the secretary-general visited. For colleagues, General Cone is as you know the commander of the Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan. I can tell you as we talk so much about standing up the ANA and the Afghan National Police as being the key to security in Afghanistan. This is the man who is making it happen, and he is extraordinarily well-respected in this building, I know as well as elsewhere. Let me ask General, if you could maybe make a couple of… take a couple of minutes to make an opening statement. Your assessment of where we are and then we'll take some questions. Thank you.

MAJOR GENERAL ROBERT W. CONE (Commander of CSTC-A): Absolutely, James, and good to see all of you there. I hope this conference will help you understand that what it is that we do and the current status of the Afghan National Security Forces, but more importantly the important role that NATO plays in assisting us in that role. Combined Security Transition Command operates throughout the entire country of Afghanistan. We have (inaudible) 8,000 personnel, some 3,000 civilians and about 5,000 are soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines as well as coalition members who support our effort.

Our mission is developing ministerial and institutional capacity and generate capable Afghan National Security Forces, and (inaudible) of these forces as they conduct combat operations. By assisting and mentoring the Afghan National Security Forces towards internal security and enforcing the rule of law, we help set conditions for a secure environment which will enable economic development and reconstruction of Afghanistan. At the same time the Afghan National Security Force gains the trust and confidence of the citizens of Afghanistan. As you know this is important for a stable, secure and independent Afghanistan.

The Afghan National Security Force is composed broadly of the Afghan National Army or ANA and the Afghan National Police or ANP. The ANA have some 66,000 soldiers currently assigned and another 8,000 in the training base preparing to enter the force. They are currently authorized a force structure of 80,000 troops. Here's something you may not know: the Afghan Army has an air corps. Eight months ago NATO's International Security Force or ISAF moved most of the ANA's troops and cargo for them. Today the Afghan National Army Air Corps moves most ANSF troops and cargo on its own. In fact the Air Corps moved nearly 8,000 soldiers and policemen and 64,000 kilograms of cargo in the month of August alone.

The Afghan National Army's commando program is also relatively new. The Afghan National Army has just finished training their fourth battalion and a fifth battalion will complete training later this month. They are partnered with US Special Forces and have proven highly confident and successful on the front line of the global war on terrorism.

As most of you know the Afghan government has proposed an increase in the ANA's end strength to 122,000 force structure and 134,000 in the force. Combined Security Transition Command fully supports this proposal as the Afghan Forces are needed to defeat the insurgency, protect the Afghan people, and help the government extend its reach.

A mission that CSTC-A assumed just a year ago is the training and development of the Afghan National Police. The Afghan National Police currently has 79,000 policemen assigned, it has authorized 82,000. CSCT-A and its partners retrained over 20,000 Afghan National policemen this year, that's some 25 percent of the total authorized force. Although the ANP is a large force, they are several years behind the Afghan Army in terms of capability and trust of the Afghan people. To address this, we've undertaken a comprehensive set of reforms to include restructuring the Ministry of Interior. We've also implemented rank reform, pay reform, identification cards, biometric records and electronic payroll systems. All of these help ensure greater accountability within the Afghan National Police.

We've also instituted a unique police district reformation program called Focussed District Development. In this program we replace, reorganize, retrain, reequip, and reform local police districts one by one. We then reinstall them in the district with a team of mentors. This provides competence and reliability at the level closest to the Afghan people. In districts with reformed police, we have seen a significant reduction in civilian casualties. That in itself is very encouraging as protection of the population is the primary purpose of the Afghan police.

Overall about half the forces in the fight right now are the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police, and they lead well over half of the operations in which they participate. That's very good for a young army that is growing and learning.

Combined Security Transition Command accomplishes our broad and challenging mission through embedded training teams, police mentor teams, and operational mentor liaison teams who teach, assist, equip and mentor both the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. Most of this force is provided by the United States, but the international community and NATO have stepped forward to provide the much needed support as well.

Combined Security Transition Command continues to be short in the police training mission. Right now we need about 2,300 police trainers. Again, we think that is a joint responsibility of all nations that contribute to the mission in Afghanistan. We ask for continued support. We here at the Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan have a very challenging mission, but we are optimistic. Afghans are true patriots and are firmly committed to the defence and security of their nation. Much work remains, and it's important that the international community understand and support this critical mission so that we may have a secure, stable and independent Afghanistan.

Thank you. At this time I'll take your questions.

APPATHURAI: Your questions?

Q: General, several months ago I heard, also heard your requirement for 2,300 police trainers. Today you said the same thing. Does it mean that you… several months you haven't recruited any police trainers or the demand for police trainers has increased? Thank you.

CONE: Actually I believe since the last time we have met… there are two nations that have offered bilateral support. I think one is the Dutch, I think have offered trainers for the Uruzgan area, and I think right now the Germans are considering a package to support police training in the RC North area. Again, I think the number has been relatively stable since we received the two seven marines that have come in to assist with police training in RC South. So we still continue to need police trainers. Again, I think we have a program that has demonstrated significant promise. The trick now will be to do it in enough size and scale that it can get the momentum that's necessary to be a successful program to have a significant impact.

I would say though that that focussed district development is not our only program and that we continue to train. For instance we took the Afghan National Auxiliary Police, basically tested members of the Auxiliary Police for who is the best qualified, and trained about 3,000 of them for participation in the Afghan National Police. Our border reform program is similar. We trained about 3,500 policemen, retrained them from the border police and gave them additional training. As I say overall about 20,000 people received individual training this last year. But again we know that the police problem in Afghanistan is not just a matter of individual training. It requires a fundamental, cultural change to deal with the problem of corruption. And again that's where we think that the FDD program has shown positive results.

Next question.

Q: General, a question on the size of ANA and ANP, I've heard figures, we heard figures: people saying more than 200,000 is needed, and now you say of course the actual figure of 66-something and the goal of 80, and your further goal of 130, but some people has then said 200,000. What is your view on the size? Is it easy to recruit people in light of the security situation, and the eternal question at the end: when will ANA and ANP then be ready to take over the security in Afghanistan?

CONE: Yeah, I think that's a good question. I want to clarify: what is currently on the table is a request to grow the Afghan National Army to 122,000 structure and 134,000 personnel, and that extra 12,000 allows us to keep a young army must keep a lot of people in school, so they're not taken out of units. They can always keep training people and keep replacing leaders so they improve.


The answer is that based on the current security situation and the ability of the Afghan Army to grow right now we think that those are the right numbers: 122 and 134. That does not mean that in given a currently changing security situation in Afghanistan, that will always be the right number.

But again I would point out there are significant challenges in attempting to grow an army that is the fourth or fifth poorest country in the world. There is a significant issue in regard to human capital, in terms of leaders and leader development. There is a significant challenge in regard to infrastructure in terms of where do you train these people? Where do you bring them to train? And finally there is a significant challenge in regard to corruption in such a way that the international community must keep close accountability of all of the resources such as weapons, construction, communications equipment so that we believe that realistically that we can grow the Afghan army in a responsible manner as a full effort to 122 and 134 by 2012 and again given the resources available, numbers of trainers available, number of facilities, number of leaders and the ever present factor of corruption.  That is the path ahead for us between now and 2012.  Next question. (...)  I'm sorry, I missed the later part of your question. When will the ANA be capable of defending Afghanistan? I will tell you that the Afghan Army right now is playing a significant role in the defence of Afghanistan.  And I think when you look at the number of police districts that are out there, casualty wise, very clearly the Afghan Army and Police have about 80% of the casualties today, fatalities in Afghanistan.  So to imply that they are not defending their country is... would be mistaken.  In fact, 80% of the casualties we see are Afghans.  They're playing an active role today.  Most ISAF commanders... There are many different ways to count operations.  But most ISAF commanders will tell you that in their regions, the Afghans are carrying certainly more than half the load at this point. 

The good news is the Afghans want to do that.  And the Afghans are the ones who initiated this proposal to grow their army.  And they would like to do this faster.  And again, it's our job to make sure we do it in a responsible and accountable manner.  Next question please.

PASCAL MALLET:  Yes, Pascal Mallet from French News Agency AFP.  General, if I may ask a question, a more general question, you said that the Afghan National Army is growing and that the Afghan government is asking for it to grow even quicker.  Is it just for the principle of it?  Or is it because on the other side the Talebans are growing very fast as well because as we can see through certain signs their activities are also growing, for instance in Northern part of Afghanistan where Germans faced recently a direct attack which is new and also because of the ambush where the French lost so many people while they were with Afghan soldiers and with US special forces, providing it was not only because of the "naïveté" or because they were not very used to the terrain which could be true as well.  Do you consider that the Talebans have changed their tactics, their strategy, or just also growing as fast the National Army of Afghanistan is growing.

CONE:  Yes, I think it's quite clear when you look at the statistics in regard to overall levels of violence in Afghanistan that there has been a growing trend in enemy activity.  And yes, the desire for the Afghan National Army to grow is clearly in response to a desire for the Afghans to take an increasing share of the fight and an increasing role in defending their country.  I know as you plot out the growth that the Afghans have proposed, what they have done is a very careful analysis where they look at where the violence is and how many troops that they would like to have in that region, and again based upon this emerging enemy situation, the Afghans feel very strongly about their ability to defend Afghanistan.  Again, I can tell you I go through every time we take coalition casualties, I know that the Afghan leadership of the Afghan Army and Police feel very strongly and great sympathy, and great gratitude for every casualty that takes place on a NATO side. 

Many times, they remarked to me what a noble thing it is for foreigners to travel across the world and stand and fight for a country... for their country, the country of Afghanistan.  So I believe it is a direct response to...  Believe me, the Afghans want nothing more than to defend Afghanistan.  I personally believe the best people to defend Afghanistan are Afghans.  This is very, very complex culture.  And it would be very difficult for an Afghan to come to France or the United States and understand the nuance of an insurgency.  I think that the young Afghan has that ability to understand that nuance and can apply force in a very judicious manner and have a better understanding to begin with of the situation.  And I think that's why they want to defend their country.  

Q:  Yes, General, Gerald Godin, Belgium News Agency, could you clarify something.  How many OMLTs do you have now?  And how many do you need in the future with this growing Afghan army?

CONE:  How many... I'm sorry I missed... How many "what" do I have?

Q:  OMLTs.


CONE:  OMLTs, okay, very good.  We have roughly 36...  I believe the number is 37 as of today, operational manoeuvre, liaison teams on the ground.  And as the number goes forward, the total requirement for new OMLTs will be 60, not necessarily OMLTs, training teams, either ETTs or OMLTs.  And right now, we are in the process of working with NATO to determine what the appropriate breakdown will be.  And again of lot of this has to do with the facts... Say for instance a new unit is formed in the German area, or is formed in the Italian, Spanish area, that might be the rationale for what country we go to.  So we have a rough idea what the numbers are going to be written large.  And now we looking for donors to assist in getting the best fit to work with the NATO countries.

APPATHURAI:   No more questions?

CONE:  The other point that I would make is that many of our units are in fact approaching what we would call a CM1, or capability milestone 1 or capable of independent operations.  And in fact as these units achieve this capability, they will still require some attention from NATO-ISAF in the form of effects team.  As you know, the air corps is not ready to provide casualty evacuation or close air support.  So they will have to call for NATO assistance.  But there will be some savings as the Afghan forces achieve full maturity.  And again, we are doing very well in that regard.  Next question please.

APPATHURAI:   I think General that's it. So let me thank you again for your visits.  They're very, very welcome and for the information you provided.  We may well tap you again one day in the future.  But from all of us here, thank you very, very much for your time.

CONE:  Again, James, thank you, and thanks to everyone, in particular thanks to NATO for the work that they do here in Afghanistan and we're proud to work with them and be a part of the NATO team. Thank you very much.