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Secretary Panetta Intervention at Meeting of Ministers of Defense from ISAF Contributing Nations in Brussels

Presenters: Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta; NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen; George Little, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs; and Admiral James G. Stavridis (USN), Commander, European Command, and Supreme Allied Command
October 10, 2012

            MR. GEORGE LITTLE:  Good afternoon.  I'm pleased to introduce Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who is joined by the secretary general.  With them are Admiral James Stavridis, NATO supreme allied commander-Europe and commander, United States European Command, General John Allen, commander, ISAF, and commander, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, and General Joseph Dunford, assistant commandant of the United States Marine Corps. 

            Following an announcement by the secretary and the secretary general, we'll transition to a press conference with Secretary Panetta.  Thank you. 

            Over to you, sir. 

            SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON E. PANETTA:  Okay.  Thanks, George. 

            Good afternoon.  It's a pleasure to be back again at NATO headquarters here in Brussels for my fifth meeting with my fellow defense ministers as secretary of defense and for our first gathering since the Chicago summit in May. 

            Over the past two days, I've taken part in a series of very good meetings with my counterparts from NATO, from our partner nations, and from ISAF contributing nations.  The goal of all of these discussions is to ensure that the alliance follows through on the commitments made by NATO political leaders at the Chicago summit, including investment in needed capabilities and implementation of the Lisbon framework on Afghanistan. 

            We have made significant progress in Afghanistan.  Last month, U.S. and ISAF forces concluded the surge of forces to the fight.  For the United States, sending an additional 33,000 men and women to war was no easy decision, but it was the right decision, and it made a decisive difference. 

            As a result, the Taliban could not regain lost ground in 2011 and lost even more ground in 2012.  Compared to a year ago, more Afghans are secure, and the conflict has moved farther away from the population centers.  Coalition casualties have decreased by 30 percent from last year, a trend that emerged months before we fully removed the surge forces. 

            The number of Afghan security forces has now grown to about 350,000.  And that larger force has maintained its recruitment and retention rates.  Those forces have taken the lead to very complex combat operations, and they are suffering the vast majority of coalition casualties, a further sign that the Afghans have the willingness to sacrifice and take the fight to the enemy for their own -- for their own future. 

            With the surge complete, we have reached a critical moment for the alliance and for this war.  There are three keys to future success.  First, we must maintain a strong coalition partnership with the Afghan forces.  We must do everything we can to help Afghan security forces successfully transition and take the lead for security throughout all of Afghanistan as planned next year. 

            That includes building the capabilities of the Afghan army and police, by providing security force assistance teams with embedded trainers and mentors.  I encourage my fellow ministers to eliminate the shortfalls that we have in providing those teams on the ground.

            Second, we must have an effective response to insider attacks.  Insider attacks are a tragic part of every war, and the enemy exploits them to undermine mutual trust and cohesion.  General Allen and I briefed the coalition leaders on the steps that we are taking alongside our Afghan partners to diminish and defeat this threat. 

            Those steps include enhancing training, adapting our partnering based on real-time threat information, expansion of vetting and counterintelligence operations, and the use of guardian angels to deter and stop attackers.  I made very clear that what tests the coalition is not so much the problem of insider attacks, but rather how effectively we respond to those attacks.  Partnering even closer will frustrate the enemy's designs to capitalize on this problem.  

            And, third, we have to have a careful execution of the campaign plan.  As we look to the mid-2013 milestone, and to the end of the transition in December of 2014, we anticipate that we will operate from fewer bases, that the net flow of materiel will turn outbound from Afghanistan, that U.S. enabler support for ISAF partners will continue, but the scope of support will change as the transition proceeds and as we jointly reduce our forces, and that as Afghan forces assume full responsibility, ISAF forces will continue stepping back. 

            While we have yet to determine the necessary size and composition of the force that will remain in Afghanistan after 2014, NATO's presence should be steadfast and effective.  

            My fellow ministers and I came out of today's meeting united on three key points.  First, we are succeeding in implementing the campaign plan that General Allen put together and that was agreed to in Chicago.  Secondly, whatever tactics -- whatever tactics the enemy throws at us, IEDs, insider attacks, car bombs, we will not allow those tactics to divide us from our Afghan partners and we will not allow those tactics to divert us from the mission that we are dedicated to.  And, thirdly, we have to remain committed to the principle of in together, out together.  

            ISAF will complete our mission to help Afghanistan secure and governance itself.  And as I said to my fellow ministers, we've come too far, we've fought too many battles, we have spilled too much blood not to finish the job that we are all about. 

            A clear signal of U.S. commitment to the alliance and to the mission in Afghanistan is the quality of our NATO-ISAF leadership team.  And now I'd like to share with you some of the very important changes that we are making to that team.

            General Allen has committed ISAF through a very crucial period.  And his leadership has put the campaign on the path to success.  He oversaw the war at the height of its combat strength, and he oversaw the surge recovery.  Under his leadership, ISAF has put relentless pressure on the enemy and built up Afghan security forces.  We have turned an important corner.  And all of that is now demonstrating their readiness, the readiness of the Afghans, to take the security lead. 

            I want to express my deep and very heartfelt thanks to General Allen and to his leadership team, to the allied and partner forces in Afghanistan, and to our Afghan partners for their commitment to this effort and to the considerable sacrifices that have been made. 

            I'm very pleased to announce that President Obama will nominate General Allen to succeed Admiral Jim Stavridis as commander, U.S. European Command, and NATO supreme allied commander in Europe.  General Allen is well known to all of you.  And if confirmed, as I expect he will, his experience as head of the ISAF forces will be absolutely instrumental in his broader role and in leading NATO's oversight of the mission in Afghanistan. 

            President Obama will also nominee General Joseph Dunford, United States Marine Corps, to succeed General Allen as commander, U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, and commander of ISAF.  General Dunford currently serves as the assistant commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.  He is an exceptionally gifted strategic leader.  He's combat-tested, and he believes in ISAF, and if confirmed, as I believe he will be, will be an extraordinary leader of that effort. 

            And lastly, let me take my -- my opportunity here to thank General Stavridis, Jim, for his service.  I've trusted his wise counsel.  He's been a good friend.  And I've depended on his ability to sustain our military and political relations in Brussels and across the region.  

            While Jim will be here until the spring, we'll have much more opportunity to talk about his leadership and service.  But I can't tell you how much I am thankful for all you've done in this capacity.  As an Italian, it's nice to say that about a Greek.  (Laughter.) 

            Owing to the tradition in the United States, Generals Allen and Dunford will refrain from public comment on their nomination in advance of their confirmation testimony before the United States Senate.  Ladies and gentlemen, I am privileged to give the floor to Secretary General Rasmussen, and then I'd like to invite General Stavridis to say a few words, as well. 

            SECRETARY GENERAL ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN:  Secretary Panetta, ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure for me to announce today that allies have approved the appointment of General John Allen, currently our commander in Afghanistan, as the new supreme allied commander in Europe, following the nomination by President Obama, and, of course, pending confirmation by the United States Senate. 

            General Allen is doing an outstanding job in Afghanistan.  I have been impressed by his leadership, determination, and commitment.  And if confirmed, I look very much forward to working with him even more closely once he takes on his new role in the spring.  And until then, I will continue to rely as ever on Admiral Jim Stavridis, who continues to excel as our supreme allied commander. 

            And if confirmed by the Senate, I also look forward to working with General Dunford of United States Marine Corps, who is being nominated to take over command in Afghanistan. 

            This is a critical time in our mission.  The transition of security responsibility to the Afghan forces is progressing according to the timeline we have agreed.  We're on track to complete it by the end of 2014 when our combat mission will come to an end.  We must ensure we keep up the momentum of transition and continue to build professional and strong Afghan security forces capable of securing their own country. 

            I'm certain that General Dunford will take on those challenges with great skill and energy.  And I'm sure we will work closely together to build on the hard-fought gains we have made.  

            And with that, I would now like to hand the floor over to SACEUR, Jim. 

            SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER JAMES STAVRIDIS:  Thank you, Anders.  

            Thank you very much, Secretary General, Secretary Panetta, my two secretaries, it's a pleasure to appear today very briefly to say a word of pending Senate confirmation in the United States about two extraordinary U.S. Marine Corps officers. 

            I first would like to say I've known Joe Dunford for almost two decades.  I've tracked his career.  I've seen him in combat, and I have seen him take on the toughest responsibilities throughout that period, including his current service as a four-star officer and the assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.  Joe, you will be superb in this role.  We are all counting on you. 

            Above all, John Allen, who I've known for 40 years, we walked into the U.S. Naval Academy together in 1972, graduated together in 1976, have known and served together lo these four decades, and I assure you, Mr. Secretary and Secretary General, you have selected the right officer to be the next supreme allied commander.  

            Congratulations, classmate, friend, brother, thank you.  Thank you all.  (Applause.)

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