Senior Official Sums Up NATO Defense Meetings
By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
ABOARD A MILITARY AIRCRAFT, Feb. 3, 2012 The NATO defense meetings that concluded this morning in Brussels were “very productive” on alliance issues ranging from Afghanistan to Kosovo to smart defense, a senior defense official told reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta.
The ministers’ discussions about Afghanistan were positive, and laid the groundwork for the NATO summit set for Chicago in May, the official said, speaking on background. Ministers from International Security Assistance Force troop-contributing nations are in general agreement about the steps needed to transition Afghanistan’s security to Afghan forces by 2014, and are in “total unity” on the transition framework agreed upon in Lisbon, Portugal, in November 2010, the official added.
French leaders have debated continued participation in ISAF since the Jan. 20 death of four French soldiers and the wounding of 15 others at the hands of an Afghan soldier. But the French delegation to this week’s meeting “had to have been impressed by the fact that everyone else was speaking with one voice” on commitment to the Lisbon framework, the official said.
Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, ISAF commander, presented his analysis of killings by Afghan force infiltrators. While they have increased in number over the past year, they remain isolated incidents, largely reflecting local grievances, the official said. Still, ISAF members agreed to develop a “counter-infiltration action plan” to more closely screen and monitor Afghan recruits, the official added.
Allies agreed they must further deliberate on the ultimate effective and affordable number of Afghan army and police forces beyond 2014, the official said. Those forces are set to grow to 350,000 by the end of the transition period.
Panetta emphasized to his fellow ministers the “substantial financial commitment” required to sustain Afghan forces up to and beyond 2014, when they will bear full lead responsibility for stability and security in Afghanistan, the official said.
The secretary reiterated calls made by his predecessor, Robert M. Gates, that the other 49 nations that make up the ISAF coalition should contribute a combined one billion euros to train, equip and pay Afghan forces, the official said, noting the United States will still pay “the lion’s share” of those costs.
NATO defense ministers agreed the ‘KFOR’ mission in Kosovo, to which the United States and 28 other nations contribute troops, is still important in light of clashes between Kosovar and Serbian groups as late as last year, the official noted.
The ministerial resulted in an important and long-awaited agreement on NATO-owned intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets, the official said. The AGS, or alliance ground surveillance, system will consist of five Global Hawk unmanned aerial vehicles and a ground-control system, which is planned to be based in Sigonella, Italy, in the next five years for whatever operations NATO may need them to support, the official added.
AGS will be the first ISR capability NATO has purchased, the official said, with the United States contributing about 40 percent of the drone package’s initial cost and 13 other nations joining in the purchase. The purchase was proposed a number of years ago, but has been delayed while NATO member nations debated signing on for collective costs of building infrastructure for the system, and operating and sustaining it, the official said.
AGS provides a good example of the NATO ‘smart defense’ strategy announced in December, which calls for sharing defense assets to increase capabilities while cutting costs, the official said.
Panetta was gratified that the ministers finalized the AGS at NATO, the official said, quoting the secretary as saying, “It’s a good deal, it’s a big deal, and it’s a done deal.”
The official acknowledged that the question of Iran’s nuclear ambitions was discussed, but was not part of the NATO agenda for the defense meetings.