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NATO Leader Expresses Cautious Optimism About Afghanistan

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

VILNIUS, Lithuania, Feb. 8, 2008 – NATO’s secretary general said today he is “cautiously optimistic” on the reconstruction and development fronts in Afghanistan.

“When it comes to access to health care, infant mortality rates, education, women’s rights (and) economic growth, things are getting steadily better for the Afghan people,” Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said during a news conference at the alliance’s defense ministerial conference here, which Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is attending.

De Hoop Scheffer said this morning’s meeting, which included discussion of non-NATO nations supplying troops to the alliance’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, went very well.

“All in all, I heard a unified national community, a determination to improve coordination between us in support of the priorities of the Afghan government, and a clear commitment that we are in this for the long haul,” he said. “The Afghan people should not have shimmer of doubt about that.”

The ministers stressed the importance of naming what de Hoop Scheffer called “a weighty” individual to head up the United Nations mission in Afghanistan. The individual would work to coordinate international and nongovernmental aid with the needs of the Afghan government. The secretary general specified the individual chosen would work with the Afghan government, and would not in any way supercede or compromise Afghan sovereignty.

Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak attended the morning meeting.

“I think Defense Minister Wardak heard commitments by his ISAF colleagues to step up efforts to train and equip the Afghan security forces,” de Hoop Scheffer said. “We know this is the future for Afghanistan. This is why nations must and will provide more training teams to support the Afghan National Army.”

NATO efforts in Afghanistan are only part of the story, the secretary general noted.

“Let me stress again this must be a comprehensive effort. This is a NATO effort, but NATO is only in the lead in security,” he said. “The United Nations, the European Union, the World Bank, the donors and first and foremost the Afghans themselves must take their full responsibilities -- with NATO support -- wherever we can.”

The defense ministers also discussed a number of other NATO issues, including NATO policy on cyber defense, de Hoop Scheffer said. A reporter asked if NATO would invoke Article 5 of the treaty if a country came under cyber attack. Article 5 is the heart of the alliance that holds an attack on one nation is an attack on all.

“(Cyber defense) was discussed, not in relationship, by the way, with Article 5. Article 5 was not mentioned,” he said.

Cyber defense is a national responsibility, “but here again, NATO can offer first of all consultations; that is what NATO is for in the case of serious cyber attacks,” de Hoop Scheffer said. NATO has expertise to lend to nations under computer assault, including mobile teams that the alliance used to help Estonia when it came under attack last year.

The ministers also discussed ballistic missile defense with an eye on the ongoing discussions between the United States and the Czech Republic and Poland. There is a technical level to the discussions in NATO to determine what NATO’s responsibility would be for a site in Europe, the secretary general said.

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Jaap de Hoop Scheffer

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