NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen Oct. 10 welcomed the selection of Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen to be the new alliance commander in Europe and the selection of Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. to succeed Allen as coalition commander in Afghanistan.
Speaking at a news conference marking the end of a NATO defense ministers conference in Brussels, Rasmussen noted that the U.S. Senate still must confirm both men for their new positions.
If confirmed, Allen will succeed Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis as NATO’s supreme allied commander for Europe and commander of U.S. European Command. Dunford is currently the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps. Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta announced President Barack Obama’s nominations of Allen and Dunford earlier today during the conference.
Rasmussen also spoke about the discussions on Afghanistan and other issues at the conference. NATO will remain involved in Afghanistan, he said, and all defense ministers agree the strategy in the country is working, and the alliance is in the operation for the long haul.
“Our strategy is working, and our timeline remains unchanged,” he said. “All allies and [International Security Assistance Force] partners are fully committed to them. We are committed to seeing this mission through to the end of 2014.”
The alliance is committed and is working on planning for the new operation that will succeed today’s mission, the secretary general said. The new mission – to train, advise and assist Afghan forces – will ensure the country never becomes a safe haven for terrorists, he added.
The defense ministers approved initial guidance for military leaders for the new mission. “I expect us to agree on a detailed outline early next year, and to complete the plan well before the end of 2013,” Rasmussen said. The secretary general could not say how large the NATO mission will be in Afghanistan post-2014. He stressed the NATO combat mission will end on Dec. 31, 2014, and that the new mission will be to train, advise and assist Afghan forces.
Much of this is already under way in Afghanistan. “There are challenges, but we remain on course,” Rasmussen said. “The handover to Afghan security responsibility is unfolding as planned. And as that transition takes hold, you will see some of our forces redeploying or drawing down as part of the strategy we have all agreed [to]. This is not a rush for the exit, but the logical result of transition.”
Afghanistan now has more than 337,000 trained soldiers and police. Some 67,000 American service members and 40,000 coalition service members are serving there. The coalition forces will withdraw as Afghan forces take the lead, and NATO leaders repeatedly have expressed confidence that the Afghans will be prepared to provide security throughout the country at the end of 2014.
Afghan forces already are in the lead for the protection of three-quarters of the population, Rasmussen said. “And in those areas, violence has not gone up. On the contrary, it has gone down,” he said. “That is a testament to the growing capability of the Afghan security forces.”
The defense ministers also discussed insider attacks, and Rasmussen said all take the threat very seriously. “The enemies of Afghanistan are using insider attacks to try to undermine trust and public confidence,” he said. “But this will not work. We will not allow the enemy to change our strategy and undermine the trust and confidence we have built.”
He noted that Afghan security forces also have been victims of insider attacks, and the coalition and Afghans are working together closely to confront the threat. “We and the Afghan government have together undertaken numerous measures to reduce the risk of insider attacks, including improved vetting and screening, counterintelligence, cultural awareness — and are constantly refining our approach,” he said.
Rasmussen stressed that the enemy is seeking to drive a wedge between the coalition and Afghan partners. “The insider attacks will not change our strategy,” he said. “We will continue our training, advising and partnering strategy. We will continue to hand over security responsibility to the Afghan security forces. We will continue the planning for a training, advisory and assistance mission to take over when the Afghan combat mission ends by the end of 2014. Our goal, our strategy, our timeline remain unchanged.”