April 18, 2012

NATO conference focuses on post-2014 Afghanistan

by Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
DOD photograph by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta participates in the NATO "jumbo" ministerial conference at NATO Headquarters in Brussels, April 18, 2012.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen April 18 emphasized support to Afghanistan beyond 2014 in remarks opening a conference of the alliance’s defense and foreign ministers in Brussels, Belgium.

Rasmussen noted the NATO summit in Chicago is a month away. “We have important work to do today and tomorrow to help set the stage,” he said.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force has been engaged in Afghanistan since 2001, and Rasmussen said the alliance will continue to support that nation beyond 2014.

Meetings of NATO defense and foreign ministers today and tomorrow will shape the decisions on Afghanistan that the alliance’s heads of state and government will make in Chicago, Rasmussen said, including completing the transition to Afghan security lead by the end of 2014 and what form NATO’s contributions in Afghanistan will take after that transfer.

Rasmussen noted Afghan security forces defeated coordinated enemy attacks April 15 in and around Afghanistan’s capital of Kabul.

“This shows that the Afghan security forces can deal with dangers and difficulties, and they are getting stronger every day,” the secretary general said.

He said his clear message to Afghanistan’s enemies is that they can’t just wait NATO out. “As we gradually draw down,” he added, “a still stronger Afghan security force is taking charge to protect the Afghan people against brutality and inhumanity.”

NATO will maintain a training mission and financial support to Afghan security forces beyond 2014, Rasmussen said. “We must make sure we maintain the gains made with so much investment in lives and resources,” he added.

Even in tough financial times, the secretary general said, supporting the Afghan forces is “a good deal in financial and political terms.”

NATO remains committed to its strategy and its long-term partnership with Afghanistan, Rasmussen said.

“This is our message to the people of Afghanistan, to the enemies of Afghanistan, and to the neighbors of Afghanistan,” he said, “because it is in the interest of our own security.”

Before a morning meeting of defense ministers this morning, Rasmussen said their discussion would center on alliance “smart defense” efforts to acquire capabilities jointly that the alliance will need to counter future threats. Smart defense, he said, “means setting the right priorities. We must specialize in what we do best and focus resources on what we need most. And we must work together to deliver capabilities that many nations cannot afford on [their] own.”

At the Chicago summit next month, Rasmussen said, NATO will demonstrate its commitment “to continue to invest political, military and economic capital in a transatlantic alliance that is fully fit to deal with the security challenges of today and tomorrow.”

In a news conference following the morning session, he announced ministers have prepared an interim missile defense plan for Europe, with details to be announced in Chicago.

NATO defense ministers also discussed a “connected forces” initiative to be finalized at the Chicago summit, he added. This agreement will strengthen member nations’ coordinated education, training and technology efforts, the secretary general said.

Financial support to Afghan forces after 2014 is expected to cost $4 billion per year, Rasmussen added, though details of NATO nations’ contributions to that total have not been finalized.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton are both here for the NATO meetings.


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