From the event


14 Jan. 2009

Weekly press briefing

by NATO Spokesman, James Appathurai

JAMES APPATHURAI (Spokesman, NATO): Thank you for coming. Let me do one thing that I think is a personal note to begin with, and that is to wish you a happy New Year because this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to meet some of you in this form. Let me also apologize because I have a cold. I’m going to cough a lot and I’m totally deaf. So if I misunderstand the question it’s not just ‘cause I’m slow, it’s also ‘cause I probably didn’t hear you.

I’d like to run through about five issues; some a little bit at more length, and then I’m happy to take your questions with apologies; in about a half an hour I have to run to a train.

First today in the NAC we had a visit and a briefing by Jonas Store, the Norwegian foreign minister. A briefing which I have to say was one of the most interesting that I have heard in my time in the NAC on the High North. Minister Store briefed on this, and I’d like to highlight a number of points that he made which I think are highly relevant and will be relevant in the context of the seminar which we’ll be hosting, or which ISAM will be hosting soon, and I’ll discuss that with you as well because you may be interested in going along.

In essence… my first SMS from Carmen telling me what I should be doing differently… no, not from her. In essence Minister Store outlined that there are significant changes taking place in the High North which have effects with regard to shipping, with regard to energy, and of course with regard to security. As he put it the High North used to be frozen, climatically and politically. Neither is increasingly the case. The ice is melting (TAPE DISRUPTION), and as he noted more on the Russia-Canada side, that’s still on this side as well. The EU and U.S. have updated their Arctic policies, and there are a significant number of legal and political for addressing the changes that are taking place. He stressed, and there was agreement around the table, that it’s called the High North, but it is still an area of low tension. There are no significant political tensions in the region resulting from the requirement for Interpol or Circumpolar cooperation, that this Circumpolar cooperation on many issues, from fisheries to energy to security is still without tension. But this is a well populated area. It can become an ocean without ice, the way he put it, if it keeps going in the direction that it is.

There are extension legal frameworks in place to resolve the necessary issues. He points out that if and when, and I think it’s more of a question of when, when the Northwest Passage opens, it would have dramatic consequences in particular for commercial shipping. For example a tanker going from Yokohama to Rotterdam, or in the other direction, would have 40 percent of the trip cut from the transit time. This opens search and rescue issues, very much for Northern countries. It opens issues for fishery, oil and gas management… a lot of this takes place in the Arctic Council which is an appropriate forum for policy issues; bringing together the five coastal states and three Nordic states as well. He pointed out that 22 percent of the undiscovered petroleum in the world may be in the Arctic. So you can understand the very important energy issues. They would be costly to develop in terms of research and development, in terms of extraction, in terms of transport. And of course there are security issues related to that.

Now in that context high level representatives of NATO and of course NATO governments will convene at a conference hosted by the Icelandic government in Reykjavik on the 28th and 29th of January to discuss the emerging challenges as global warming affects the Arctic region, shrinking of the Ice Cap, technological advances are making the region’s energy resources more accessible. New trans-Arctic shipping routes are opening and are expected to alter global transportation patterns. There are economic interests, different stakeholders are of course engaged in addressing those interests, and there is an increasing military presence in the area as well.

As it is a region of enduring strategic interest to NATO and allied security, there will be this seminar, Security Prospects in the High North. It will be opened by the prime minister of Iceland. The Secretary General will give a keynote speech. This is on Thursday, the 29th. The Icelandic minister of foreign affairs will give an introductory remark. First session will be on current strategic challenges. Participants will address the current strategic situation; what are the security challenges, are we significantly prepared for them? Minister Store will speak. General John Craddock, Supreme Allied Commander will speak, and Professor Robert Hubert from the University of Calgary will also speak.

Then they will look into the future; best and worst case scenarios in terms of security implications, new security challenges, including environmental disasters or terrorism. Baroness Taylor; the UK minister for International Defence and Security will speak; General Mattis, our Supreme Allied Commander Transformation; Dr. Henning Riecke, head of the European Foreign and Security Policy Program at the German Council and Foreign Relations.

Final session: options for closer cooperation with the High North. Soren Gade, the Danish defence minister will speak; Admiral Di Paola, our chairman of the Military Committee; and Dr. Alyson Bailes, whom I’m sure many of you know headed up the SIPRI. She is now at the University of Iceland. And Jamie Shay will be moderating that panel that is sure to be interesting. So that is the High North.

Second, let me give you a very quick readout of the Secretary General’s trip to Jordan and Israel on which I had the privilege of accompanying him. In Jordan there were of course two main subjects. One was NATO-Jordan cooperation. We are working on finalizing an individual cooperation program that will step up cooperation between NATO and Jordan in a number of areas. The Secretary General committed to the king and to the other Jordanian leaders that he would do what was in his power to speed up the process of agreeing this document which I say frankly Jordanian government would like to see more quickly, so we will do that. They also discussed the regional security situation, and in particular the events in Gaza. I should say this from the opening: you have seen this in his public comments; NATO is not seeking, and the Secretary General conveyed this to all his interlocketers, NATO is not seeking a role in resolving the Gaza conflict. There are other parties who are heavily engaged in this. But of course he is interested. It is of global interest what is happening in that region, and the King of Jordan, when we were in Jordan, of course wished to discuss it with him, and they exchanged views on the situation. The Secretary General conveyed his views, and that is of course that all parties should abide by the UN Security Council Resolution that a ceasefire should be put in place, that the necessary steps should be taken by all parties to allow for the success of the Egyptian broker talks that are underway now.

We, or he, then moved to Israel where he met with the prime minister, with the foreign minister, with the defence minister, with the chief of defence. There were two again subjects of discussion. One was NATO-Israel cooperation. That is very well-developed. Israel of course has an individual cooperation program. We work together on a number of very important areas, including the fight against terrorism, in terms of logistics, in terms of unmanned aerial vehicles and other kinds of technical cooperation.

Of course all the Secretary General’s interlocuters  brought up the situation in Gaza; their assessment of where it was going. I of course cannot discuss their assessment of where it is going. The Secretary General repeated to them what I have just repeated to you. When discussing a possible NATO role, he has raised of course the position that he has made public many times, and that is not in the context of Gaza, but in the context of a comprehensive peace agreement, that he could envision a discussion within NATO, and that he would see that discussion going positively were there a comprehensive agreement; were there a UN Security Council Resolution, and if the parties were to request a role for the Alliance.

Next issue: Afghanistan. First to tell you that the third stage of voter registration is now complete, that is in the East. It has gone let us say as well as expected and maybe even a little better, in that it has gone largely without significant security incidents. So it has gone according to plan. What is better than expected is we have a higher level of voter registration than the Afghan government had expected. So it has gone very, very well. We will soon, and that means the Afghans first and foremost, but with NATO support, soon turn to voter registration in the South. This is where it’s likely to be the most complicated, but we will see where it goes, and we are encouraged I think by the success of the process until now which has been as I say according to plan in terms of timing and security and better than expected in terms of voter registration.

Second issue is civilian casualties. The issue of civilian casualties is one of course which NATO takes very, very seriously. We are aware that this is an issue that reducing to the minimum, the civilian casualties caused by NATO operations in Afghanistan is not only a humanitarian imperative and a human imperative, but also essential to maintaining public support for the presence of international forces which we consider to be essential for the future of Afghanistan, at least in the interim phase. So as you know we spend a lot of time, and first and foremost our military spends a lot of time trying to diminish these.

Let me first, and I think it’s important to do this, put this into the context that I think it requires, and that is there’s a lot of attention on the civilian casualties caused by NATO. And we also put a lot of attention on that because that’s our business. But I do think we need to put it in the larger context, and I would hope that the press would keep it in the larger context of how many are caused by the Taliban or anti-government forces. .

I asked our military colleagues to provide me with data; how many do we cause? How many do they cause?  I can tell you that for August according to the data that NATO has put in place with a revised and improved reporting system insurgents were responsible for six times as many civilian casualties as ISAF. In September five times, in October four times, and in November 20 times as many civilian casualties as NATO forces, ISAF forces. December data is still to be finalized.

All this to say let us I hope keep in mind that insurgents are responsible according to our data for 80 percent of the civilian casualties in Afghanistan, and with a critical difference they do not pay any attention to the presence of civilians when conducting their attacks or, and this is what we see of course on a regular basis, they deliberately try to drag civilians into the line of fire, precisely so that we have discussions like this.

That being said Commander ISAF on the 30th of December issued a tactical directive which I will put up on the NATO website after this briefing so you see it. Let me give you a few highlights. He has directed as follows that we cannot take for granted public support and that we have to strive to deepen and broaden it; that we, by which he means ISAF, must partner and conduct combined operations with ANSF, Afghan National Security Forces to the maximum extent possible in support of Afghan objectives. ISAF independent operations must be the exception. He has directed of course as a basic principal that respect for the Afghan people; their culture, their religion and their customs is essential, and he has directed the following points. Unless there is a clear and identified danger emanating from the building, and to do otherwise would threaten our ANSF partners and ourselves, all searches and entries of Afghan homes, mosques, religious sites or places of cultural significance will be led by the Afghan National Security Forces. All responses must be of course propionate, and the utmost of care should be taken to minimize damage. That’s point one.

Point two: all personnel will demonstrate respect for Afghans, Afghan culture, Afghan customs and Islam in their actions and words… on the road and in vehicles ISAF personnel will demonstrate respect and consideration for Afghan traffic and pedestrians. This relates to the concern that the Afghan people have had about NATO convoys moving too fast and in a dangerous way.

Point three: in order to minimize death or injury of innocent civilians and escalation of force engagement, that generally means at checkpoints when people don’t stop or when they’re approaching NATO convoys and they don’t stop, commanders are to set conditions through the employment of techniques and procedures and most importantly training to minimize the need to resort to deadly force, including the use of signals, signs, other warnings. They must be unambiguous and repeated to ensure the safety of innocent civilians. Of course we must clearly apply and demonstrate proportionality, requisite restraint, and the utmost discrimination in our application of firepower. Important point: no one seeks or intends to constrain the inherit right of self-defence of every member of the ISAF force; that should be very, very clear. Any credible report of civilian casualties or civilian property damage will be immediately investigated in cooperation. All investigations will be in cooperation with our Afghan partners.

The rest of the document, as I say, this will all be put up on the website today, but I wanted to read this out to you to make it clear how much effort NATO is making to address this situation.

A few quick points and then I’ll be happy to take your questions. One: the Czech foreign minister will brief the NAC on the EU presidency on the 21st of January; so the Czech priorities for their EU presidency. Also, and I have a note on this but I have to get it right… on the 19th of January the Croatian deputy prime minister will meet in a bilateral meeting with the Secretary General to discuss the prospectives of Croatia’s accession; NATO’s role, or their role in NATO operations; and with a particular interest in civil emergency planning. The Croatian deputy prime minister is in charge of drafting the Croatian National Strategies on the fight against terrorism, but also on civil emergency planning. So these are areas of interest to her.

Two things I wanted to mention; the Secretary General’s New Year’s reception, also on the 19th. Let me invite you. We will have a spectacular menu and lots of free alcohol. I know how that appeals to my colleagues and the press. But he will give out, he will read, or he will give a briefing on his priorities for the year, of course for the seven months that he will be Secretary General. But of course with the summit on the horizon, the new Obama presidency, I think he will have quite a lot to say. He will also be giving a speech on January 26th at the SGA which will be I think here… it certainly will be here in Brussels. It’s often at the Bibliothèque Solvay; it might well be again, but we’ll send you out immediate advisory. Again this will be on the 60th anniversary of NATO, and I think probably will not be in disagreement with what he says to you earlier at the press reception.

I think that’s all I wanted to mention and I’m happy to take your questions.

UNIDENTIFIED: Do you want me to identify myself?


UNIDENTIFIED: Do you want me to identify myself?

APPATHURAI: That would be great.

UNIDENTIFIED: (Inaudible). There is a force generation conference today at SHAPE on additional troops to Afghanistan during the elections. What sorts of pledges and promises have been made, and for what durations, and can you describe them in any detail?

APPATHURAI: I can’t. Just to put… well, not too much because when I left the building the chairman of the Military Committee was just briefing the NAC that the meeting had basically just started, and they didn’t have any results. But to put it in context for colleagues who don’t follow this there is indeed a force generation conference taking place today in Monsey, Supreme Headquarters for Operations. The topic is in essence national contributions to augment ISAF during the Afghan elections to be held later this year. These would be a temporary contribution only for the election period. We do not of course discuss publicly what individual nations pledge; it is for them to discuss what individual nations pledge.

The intent is for ISAF to provide third line security. That is backing up the Afghan National Police first of all and the army in second line, and then NATO. This is an Afghan-led process. A security plan was signed off by the chairman of the Afghan Independent Election Commission along with representatives from the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Defence and ISAF back in August. This is the first time that this will be truly an Afghan-led election process, and ISAF will support within means of capabilities. As I mentioned we are already supporting the voter registration process.

So that’s the long answer; the short answer is there’s no results yet. We wouldn’t announce individual national contributions anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED: (Inaudible) figure that is being sort.

APPATHURAI: Yes, I do, but I’m not at liberty to discuss it. I’m sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED: (Inaudible). Declaration first: it’s such a pleasure to see NATO normal functioning after two weeks of constant gas war. So let now the question is does NATO see any security implications of these gas conflict between Russia and Ukraine? Because there was in fact publicly made some estimates that there could be some kind of security circumstances of these, including tensions maybe and even military involvement. So thank you so much.

APPATHURAI: Thank you. Yes, the gas is happily still on at NATO headquarters. There had been, of course there’s no doubt informal discussions on the energy and in particular the gas issue between ambassadors, not least because a number of NATO countries have not had the heat they needed over the past couple of weeks. I could certainly envision a discussion within NATO’s Economics Committee on the implications of this current crisis for NATO’s overall approach to energy security. I would also not at all exclude the possibility of a discussion this afternoon in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council which brings together all of partner countries where, as I say I would not be surprised if some of the countries that had suffered from this might wish to raise the issue in a forum including Russian and Ukraine.

Yeah, please.

UNIDENTIFIED: Yes, two questions, James. First you gave some figures about the number of casualties made by Taliban and NATO troops.


UNIDENTIFIED: Can you give the actual figures for those five months? And the second question is it’s(sic) already a procedure in place for the whole discussion about the succession of the Secretary General later this year.

APPATHURAI: Thank you. At present I can’t give the actual figures for internal security reasons; to be very frank with you I don’t really understand. So I have gone back to find out why, and when I can I will. So I apologize for that. I don’t really get the sense of it either, but I’m being told by everybody that there’s an issue. So I will go and look at it again. I only got them yesterday, so I haven’t had a chance to overturn this little problem.

There is no process launched, and I checked this yesterday, formal or informal as far as I’m aware in terms of the replacement of the Secretary General, or the selection of a new Secretary General, to succeed the current one after his term expires on the 31st of July. It is an informal process where in essence heads of state and government talk amongst themselves, select informally through their personal contacts who the individuals they consider to be the most appropriate, and then they talk to them. That is the way it has happened in the past. So there is no formal structure, no formal procedure. That being said within the NATO context it is the only process, informal as it is, that is not led by the Secretary General. This one is led by the dean of the Council, the most senior member of the North Atlantic Council; ambassador. Because obviously the current Secretary General, this is the one area where he wouldn’t get engaged. Bottom line it’s the Dane, Per Poulsen-Hansen, as he’s the longest serving member of the North Atlantic Council.

Final point I would make here: until… you would not expect even a serious informal process to begin I think until President-elect Obama becomes President Obama because the United States will have its views on who would be NATO Secretary General.


APPATHURAI: It is not necessary. I certainly can’t exclude it, and I know that a lot of… certainly people in the public are talking about that as a milestone. But I can honestly tell you I haven’t heard anybody in private conversations say that that’s any kind of a deadline. That being said, July 31st is pretty soon, so I imagine this process has to begin relatively quickly




UNIDENTIFIED: All right, James, I’ve got a few questions…


UNIDENTIFIED: So I’ll ask them really quickly.


UNIDENTIFIED: The Jordanian trust fund was inaugurated at the Sec Gen’s visit this January. The website said it was founded in December of 2007. Did it do anything in the interim? The next one is ANA funding. The projected size of the Afghan National Security Forces, the budget way(?) out(?) strips, the entire Afghan Treasury Budget. Who’s gonna pay for it and how? Not the first time I’ve asked that, but I’m hoping for more information. Is the agreement with Kazakhstan on transit moving? We seem to be getting the same message now for eight months. Is there a hold-up, what is it? How many stages are there to Afghan electoral registration processes? We’ve heard the second one was complete, now the third one is complete. Where’s that going? Is the NATO-Ukraine Commission discussing gas concretely? And the last one you’ll be pleased to hear: is the (TAPE DISRUPTION) to be involved in the ISAF (TAPE DISRUPTION) for election security?

APPATHURAI: Thank you. Jordanian trust funds, since it has been put in place two things have happened. One is that experts, NATO experts have provided or have worked with, let’s put it this way, have worked with Jordanian experts in terms of establishing the essential administration inside Jordan and infrastructure. The second thing that has been done is an assessment of the mine problem itself, or the unexploded ordinance problem, more broadly. So they have in essence done the scanning to know what’s there. Now the next phase will have to be the actual destruction of this unexploded ordinance, and what the Secretary General did was inaugurate in essence this next phase and view the equipment that has been provided, because that also has happened. The equipment that has been provided through this trust fund to the Jordanian experts, including vehicles which we saw, including detection equipment in terms… and destruction equipment. So two phases are complete, now they’re moving to the one that really matters which is the destruction.

ANA funding. You are quite right that the financial cost of sustaining an enlarged Afghan National Army is significant; it’s in the billions. And the Afghan government will not be able… for some time anyway to sustain the funding for that. There are various streams of funding, some national, including the United States. There is an ANA trust fund within NATO which has several million dollars in it… sorry, it’s million, not billions; it’s $20 million… $20 million a year, I think. Is that right?


APPATHURAI: Two and three billion… two and three billion.


APPATHURAI: Yeah, yeah, you’re right. It’s… those are correct figures, but I’ll get the final figures for you. Short version is we have a trust fund. It doesn’t have nearly enough in it. One country, I won’t name them because it is to them to name them, put one and a half million euros into it today at the NAC. So it is getting there. The bottom line is we believe within NATO that this is a very important endeavour because in the end it’s still cheaper to have the Afghans fight for themselves and provide their own security with financial support from us, the international community than to bill for deploying our forces there. I might add that this is a case that the Afghans make as well. We can do it for less, much, much less, and of course in a politically much more sustainable way. So NATO believes that a lot more should come from NATO nations into funding the ANA, and we will continue to work it. But I would not say that we are fully satisfied yet with the levels within the ANA trust fund.

In terms of transit, there are a number of discussions… sorry, to be more… not to talk code, in terms of concluding land transit agreements for non-lethal military goods in essence on either side of Russia to be able to transit into a Northern line. All these discussions are going, and I checked this yesterday, reasonably well. But they are complicated. In essence I have nothing new to tell you. We are going back and forth with all of the three governments, the three principal governments with which we are working; that is the Kazakhs, the (inaudible) on that side, and the Ukrainians on this side. But there are complicated technical and legal issues… that’s what (inaudible) financial issues. I am told by our logisticians that there are no deal breakers, but it’s just slow, so they tell me.

How many steps of voter registration for? This is the fourth and final stage. It’s in the South. Will the NUK(?) discuss gas? I believe there is an ambassadorial level meeting, including Ukrainians tomorrow, somebody told me on the way out the door. It is to be confirmed, and I have absolutely no doubt that it will be discussed.

NRF. That is not the discussion that is taking place now at the Forest(?) Generation Conference, in terms of using the NRF for voter registration support. What they are discussing now at the Forest Generation Conference is national contributions, so not sending the NRF as a whole to Afghanistan. Could that discussion come up at a subsequent phase? I don’t know, but that is not what has been asked for from nations today.

Let’s go here.

UNIDENTIFIED: James, I was just wondering where things stand in terms of resuming informal (inaudible) contacts with the Russians? I thought that tomorrow had been a date which was at least pencilled in.

APPATHURAI: My understanding is that it’s the 26th. There will be an informal meeting of the NATO ambassadors of course led by the Secretary General and the Russian ambassador on the 26th. But that is not an NRC. That’s just an informal meeting of the ambassadors to have a first discussion of various issues and how they wish to see the NRC take off.

UNIDENTIFIED: Does the gas dispute play into that at all? If this dispute continues could that have an effect on that meeting?

APPATHURAI: I don’t know, but I don’t anticipate it. I think the meeting will be held as scheduled. Now I’m gonna take all your questions at once because I have to catch a train. So let’s just take them all and then I’ll do them rapid fire. Sorry to do it like this.

UNIDENTIFIED: Okay, quick question. Is there any concern within NATO right now about… is there any concern that there might be some negative consequences for ISAF due to… stemming from the fighting in Gaza? You know the fact that the Western countries haven’t really condemned Israel over it?

APPATHURAI: Okay, thanks.

UNIDENTIFIED: My question is has NATO been asked for any help from anybody, any country, to resolve the gas problem? I think of the pipelines and perhaps reserves.


UNIDENTIFIED: About the decision by defence ministers in Budapest to authorize ISAF to participate in drug interdiction. Has that ever happened, has that led to anything?

APPATHURAI: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED: To reach a stage we are with Kosovo Security Force because some (inaudible) reports speculated that the 21st NATO will start to training the Kosovo Security Force.

APPATHURAI: Got it. And?

UNIDENTIFIED: Any latest on the situation on the border with Pakistan with NATO supplies being affected repeatedly?

APPATHURAI: Got it. And, last one?

UNIDENTIFIED: James, James, j'aimerais savoir est-ce que le conflit gazier entre l'Ukraine et la Russie peut-il avoir un certain impact pour l'infrastructure militaire otanien en Europe?  Merci.

APPATHURAI:  L'infrastructure, okay.  Okay, we have I have to say no… sorry, when it comes to Gaza we have no information that there is any security threat or that there is an increased security threat to NATO forces or NATO operations in Afghanistan as a result of the events in Gaza. We have seen the demonstrations, but certainly we have no information that this is posing a risk to our mission or our personnel.

Has NATO been asked…


APPATHURAI: Oh, the gas… the short answer is no. Nobody has raised NATO to help resolve the gas issue. I understand there is some discussion of the pipeline system. We have to be clear that is an oil and kerosene pipeline. It is not suited for this kind of situation. By the way it ends in Central Europe. It basically still reflects the Iron Curtain. So it is not an appropriate response for this crisis.

Drug interdiction. The legal issues related to the authority given by NATO political leaders for NATO to take action against drug facilities and facilitators who support the insurgency. Those legal issues as far as I am aware are still being worked out. There is an intent to do it, but we want to ensure, and let me stress the military wants to be absolutely clear that whatever they do has a sufficient and appropriate legal basis within the national laws of our countries, and in particular that this does not contravene in any way the use… or does not contravene laws prohibiting the use of military force for law enforcement purposes. So our lawyers are looking very carefully at this. For some countries that is not as much an issue. In some countries it is an issue. So we want to ensure that the legal issues are resolved, and that is still going on.

Kosovo Security Force. On the 20th of January the KPC will be disbanded. On the 21st of January the Kosovo Security Force will be stood up. Training for the civilian elements of the Kosovo Security Force will begin immediately. At a certain stage, and I think relatively soon, interviews for the military personnel will take place according to the guidelines that have been sent out, led by of course Kosovo authorities, but with a role for KFOR as well to ensure that the KSF is as we intend it to be democratically controlled, multi-ethnic and meeting the appropriate legal and other standards.

NATO border with Pakistan. Short answer is there is no strategic disruption to NATO supplies, not least to thanks to the very significant efforts by the Pakistani Frontier Corps and others to ensure their security which we have seen again. I might add that the assessment this morning for the military is that military to military cooperation between NATO, Afghanistan and Pakistan has not diminished in any way as a result of recent events.

Final one was on…


APPATHURAI: Oh, no. No effect. No effect. Colleagues, I’m so sorry to run like this, but I’ll miss my train.