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Media Availability with Gen. Breedlove in NATO Headquarters, Brussels, Belgium

Presenters: General Philip Breedlove, NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe
June 04, 2013

            GEN. PHILIP GEN. BREEDLOVE:  Okay.  Good afternoon.  

            I'm looking forward to taking part in my first defense ministers' conference here as the new SACEUR [Supreme Allied Commander Europe].  I'm becoming familiar in my first month of command with the ways our chiefs of defense and now the ministers of defense work together to find common ground about the way ahead for this great alliance.

            These are dynamic times, and I'm invigorated by the challenges and opportunities in front of us today, and encouraged by the passion and the professionalism of the whole NATO team to meet those challenges and to address those opportunities. 

            As I look across the alliance, I see that although there is great stability on the whole within our many country borders, just beyond those borders in many cases there is uncertainty and insecurity. 

            And so as SACEUR my first and enduring priority will be to ensure that NATO remains vigilant and prepared to meet the challenges and the threats of the future with agile, capable and interoperable military forces. 

            The fundamental priority lies at the core of the military alliance, and it will remain front-and-center while I am the commander. 

            My other top priority now and in the immediate future is the transition in Afghanistan as the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] readies itself to take responsibility for security across the country.  General Dunford, who I think you're going to meet with later today, and many others are here with the ministers to take a final look at the concept of operations for the new NATO mission there, which we call Resolute Support.           

            This train, advise and assist mission will be the fruition of more than a decade -- or a decade of sacrifice and hard work on the part of ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] and other contributing nations alongside the Afghan security forces. 

            The gains of the people of Afghanistan have been made over this past decade must not be put at risk, and NATO is ensuring that they won't be. 

            As we move forward with the guidance on this concept, our planning teams will put together a more detailed operational plan in the coming months that will lay out more specifically how NATO, with the support of the international community, will fulfill the Resolute Support train, advise and assist mission. 

            One of the areas from which threats are continuing to emerge is cyber.  My predecessor said that in this area, NATO has the largest gap between our preparedness and the threat.  We will be discussing these very issues during this conference.  We have a defensive effort that is continuing to strengthen our ability to protect our networks, but the work is far from complete.  And as I've mentioned, we recognize that these threats continue to evolve. 

            Our center of excellence in (inaudible) is part of the way ahead for NATO to find better ways to reinforce the strength of the integrity of our networks and, hence, our security.  This will undoubtedly not be the last time we discuss the many challenges that comes from this evolving threat. 

            Finally, in my role as the EUCOM [United States European Command] commander, I'm working intensely with my European colleagues and other partners to emphasize the strength and the vibrancy of our trans-Atlantic linkages.  Our security is deeply interwoven and supported by the deep roots in both economic and cultural shared values with our neighbors in Europe.  These relationships have endured for decades and will continue to thrive through all of our challenges, whether they are economical or tactical.  

            The U.S. is certainly paying closer attention in Asia militarily than it has in the recent past, but it is doing so along with the rest of the world.  Our past, present, and our future is deeply linked with our NATO allies, and there is no doubt that we will continue to best secure our future together as a fully committed, full-time member. 

            As we approach the beginning of this conference, I'm very encouraged that we are taking on the tough issues like Afghanistan and cyber.  And I'm looking forward to our progress, and I look forward to learning more about the process by which we get to that progress. 

            With that, I'm happy to take your questions. 

            Q:  General, I was wondering if you could give us your assessment of how things are going so far in Afghanistan.  I understand you recently returned from there. 

            I'm primarily interested in what you see as the -- as the pro and cons of waiting to make a firm commitment as it respects to a post-2014 troop footprint.  Do you think, you know, considering the many stakeholders and the many audiences, what would be the right time to lay down those markers and give the people who are interested in -- in that information a sense of where the U.S. stands? 

            GEN. BREEDLOVE:  Okay, let me start off with a report, as you asked about my observation in Afghanistan, especially as it relates to my last visit.  First and foremost, you will meet with Joe Dunford later today.  General Dunford and I have served together many times in some pretty tough places.  And I have incredible confidence in his leadership and his stewardship of this incredible mission that we have in ISAF.

            I did go there.  I visited with the, the defense minister, the minister of interior, and the fielded commanders, both in Kabul and in RC-East and RC-North.  And I want to say to you that in a U.S. euphemism, I am well more than a glass half full here.  I am optimistic about what I see in Afghanistan.  There are some -- some distinct examples and trends that show that the ANSF is acquitting itself very well. 

            I have heard the commanders there essentially say that the ANSF is in front completely across the country now.  We haven't had the transition, but they are in the lead.  And we are assisting them in their operations, and they are acquitting themselves well. 

            Now, you all know -- you follow the press, clearly -- that there is some very tough fighting going on right now -- very tough fighting.  This is the peak of the season.  And I think, one more time I would just point out that the -- the ANSF has acquitted itself very well and against some fairly large and complex attacks, as you have watched across the past several weeks. 

            And so I think that we have a situation where we have good indications that the ANSF is maturing and -- and accepting, and moving out on the mission.  Clearly, there will be some areas of enablers and things where we will need to continue to help them across the next year and a half as we move towards the end of 2014.  But by and large, these forces are fighting, taking some fairly significant losses, and they continue to keep the pressure on those -- the Taliban and others. 

            Yes, ma'am? 

            (CROSSTALK) 

            Q:  --  answer the second part of my question? 

            GEN. BREEDLOVE:  Okay, the second part of the question as to when we should be announcing numbers?  I am not going to prescribe for the leadership of NATO when we should be announcing numbers.  I think what you will hear during this conference, is that ministers will come, including our U.S. defense minister, with a strong message of support and support to the mission, and commitment to the people of Afghanistan and commitment to the ANSF as we move forward into Resolute Support.  And so I think I will allow it to stay with them as to the initiative for how we roll this out. 

            Yes, ma'am? 

            Q:  Hi, I'm Teri Schultz with NPR and CBS.  A quick follow-up on that.  Have you been hearing from allies, though, that they would like the U.S. to come forward sooner rather than later?  And what do you think about these new suggestions put forth in a -- in a report by, including others, General Allen that a bridging force would -- is -- would be useful, and would help perhaps ease some of the fears and the transition problems? 

            GEN. BREEDLOVE:  So as to the request of others, clearly all are trying to synchronize and organize to get to the right size and type of force.  And I must say that, to me the capability of that force is probably more important than the actual number of that force.  We're looking to get certain capabilities, to be able to train, advise and assist the Afghanis who will be in the lead when this mission for Resolute Support starts. 

            And as I said, I think that, like you, I will be listening closely during this conference to hear what the ministers have to say about those numbers and the capability of -- of that force. 

            Both -- the second half of your question again?  I'm sorry. 

            Q:  Proposal made by General Allen -- 

            (CROSSTALK) 

            GEN. BREEDLOVE:  Right. Right. 

            I haven't seen it.  I have heard reporting of it as you all have reported.  And so I would not want to comment on it, because I haven't read it and I don't understand it.  And, therefore, I would be sort of shooting in the dark on it, so. 

            Q:  But can you speak to what you saw on the ground, whether you think that keeping a -- a small mini surge for a little while after 2014 might be useful? 

            GEN. BREEDLOVE:  I think what is important is that between now and the end of December '14 is that we have the appropriate force on the ground to do what we have intended to do all along, which is prepare the Afghani forces for that transition into the mission of Resolute Support.  And so how we draw down the existing force so that we can ensure that at the end of '14, to the best degree possible, the Afghanis are completely capable of taking over the mission, I think that's what we should focus on. 

            And -- and again, until I have read the proposal by General Allen, I'm -- I just really don't want to comment about that. 

            MODERATOR:  -- (inaudible) -- 

            Q:  General, can you address the -- the Libyan question that NATO is -- is currently talking about, and what role you think the U.S. could be playing in this -- the team that's going to go and assess and what role you think the U.S. should play in any additional support? 

            GEN. BREEDLOVE:  Right.  I'm at a little bit of a disadvantage because I was busy this morning and didn't hear the remarks that the secretary general made.  But I believe the secretary general talked this morning about -- what has been discussed is that a fact-finding team of experts from NATO would go to Libya and do a study.  And this is a real short-term thing.  

            I believe that he has announced that the -- that the results of that study should be done by the end of June.  And so, that's obviously very quick.  And I believe that the secretary general also mentioned that whatever training would be done would be done outside of Libya.  

            And in the past couple of weeks, we have been looking at this a little bit on the U.S. side and considering how and where and why this might work.  And we will, as U.S., part of NATO, contribute our thoughts to this fact-finding mission.  And -- and then, we'll see how that -- how that comes out.

            Q:  Do you see the U.S. playing a role in the training? 

            GEN. BREEDLOVE:  I think that as a part of NATO we would be a part of -- of this -- of the mission. 

            Q:  General, could you give us the lay of the land in terms of cyber threats to NATO's networks?  I mean, who is the -- who are the adversaries and what -- (inaudible)?  What types of attacks are you seeing?  And what -- what do you think needs to be done to shore up the NATO cyber defense? 

            GEN. BREEDLOVE:  Right.  So this is a tough issue.  And rather than name a list of names, I would just tell you that all the actors that are talked about every day in attacks on U.S. networks and other networks around the world are the same actors that are involved in attacking NATO. 

            And how we are to proceed?  Well, this is a very interesting conversation which is going on now amongst the 28 nations, how do we move out?  And I think we will get some guidance during this ministerial about what the defense ministers want us to do. 

            I must tell you that in SACT [Supreme Allied Commander Transformation], General Palomeros, his efforts there have been many things moving forward in the -- the training, the recognizing, the education piece to bring a lot of our partners to the same level as other partners. 

            And that is -- what we shouldn't lose is the fact that much is already being done.  In my headquarters, in operations, we're a little bit more concerned about operations, and our -- our CCOMC [Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Centre], which is essentially our command center, has got a lively program of networking, informing, alerting all of the nations of NATO.  So things are already being done. 

            How the -- how the alliance moves forward, I think we'll receive a lot of our guidance today, as we listen to the defense ministers.

            I think that hand in the back left has been going up a lot.  Right there. 

            MODERATOR:  Go ahead. 

            Q:  Thank you -- (inaudible). 

            Just need a clarification on -- (inaudible) -- training would be again.  Would it be for the armed forces as a (whole ?) or for the -- (inaudible) -- security? 

            GEN. BREEDLOVE:  I must say, I don't know the whole answer to your question.  What I have heard about so far is for military forces.  I do not know if the conversations have gone beyond that, but I do know about that piece.  And that would make sense since I'm a military officer. 

            (CROSSTALK) 

            MODERATOR:  Go ahead. 

            Q:  Coming back to Afghanistan, are you concerned that at the end there are going to be negotiation between them Afghan -- (inaudible) -- and the -- and the Taliban -- (inaudible)? 

            GEN. BREEDLOVE:  You know what I would ask you to do is wait and ask that question of General Dunford.  He has a much closer contact with the leadership of Afghanistan.  I've had my first meeting only with the ministers of interior and defense.  I've not -- did not get to meet the president when I was there this past trip.  He has been -- he was out of country.  So it might be best if you save that question for General Dunford, who has an ongoing conversation with President Karzai and others. 

            Q:  Right.  My question was not about how these (conversation ?) in which situation the (conversation ?) are but politically or, you know, morally, how do you consider that at the end the result of the ISAF operation is going to be -- (inaudible) -- our enemies? 

            GEN. BREEDLOVE:  Well, I think that we have said many times that the real solution here is a -- is a political solution.  And our job as a force, ISAF, is to provide the time and space for the maturing of the ANSF so that it can -- can defend its nation against those things that -- that we have all discussed in the past, and also give time and space for the government to develop capacity to do these things so that they can reach a solution whereby they meet the needs of their people and the -- and find a political solution.  So I think that's how I would cast it. 

            Q:  Thank you, general. 

            Peter Spiegel with the Financial Times. 

            Sticking with Afghanistan, you said, unfortunately, you didn't get to see President Karzai when you were in country, but depending on your interpretation, it seems that General Dunford has had a bit of a rough start with his relationship with Karzai.  Of course, not the first U.S. commander to have a bit of a rough start with -- with -- with Karzai.  How concerned are you about that relationship and -- and, more generally, about President Karzai's (inaudible) on a lot of these issues? 

            GEN. BREEDLOVE:  Well, I don't think I would concede what you said about General Dunford's start with President Karzai.  First and foremost, General Dunford is an incredibly well-educated, well-situated man to be having these conversations.  He is the perfect commander, as I told you before.  And -- and, as I speak to him -- and just did, literally, in the last hour -- he has, I think, a robust conversation with President Karzai.  He seems to get regular access to the president and has not complained to me at all about not being able to meet.  

            So let me recast your question and say I think that these are some pretty tough times, and the subjects are not easy.  And I think that General Dunford has a positive and continuing conversation and gets the access that he needs. 

            Q:  Let me -- if I can just rephrase the question then if you don't agree with the premise.  I mean, the issue of -- of Karzai and whether he is a reliable ally has one that's -- 

            GEN. BREEDLOVE:  Mm-hmm. 

            Q:  -- that's sort of plagued us for several years.  Have you been able to make an assessment yet as to -- as to how problematic he has been in terms of the way forward, particularly as the U.S. begins to draw down, NATO begins to draw down and turns it over to him? 

            GEN. BREEDLOVE:  Yeah, I not to be obtuse, but I wouldn't comment till I at least have a chance to talk with him.  I think that would be unfair. 

            Q:  Okay. 

            MODERATOR:  I'm going to have to give the last one to -- Adam, do you got one or no? 

            (CROSSTALK) 

            Q:  Yeah, please. 

            Can you explain how you see your role (inaudible) in looking at Syria?  You know, your predecessor didn't do really a lot of contingency planning.  We're approaching, kind of the Geneva 2 moment where it could go either way.  It seems -- you know what -- what role do you see for NATO in -- in this area, if any? 

            GEN. BREEDLOVE:  So let me recast your statement a little bit, too, as well and just remind that -- that in NATO we don't plan because we want to plan, or that we don't plan necessarily every time that the military decides it needs to plan.  In my predecessor's defense, we do contingency planning when the NAC [North Atlantic Council] directs it.  They have a very specific instrument called the NID, NAC Initiating Directive.  And we have not been directed -- in fact we have been told not to plan to this point for Syria. 

            And I think that my predecessor executed his job exactly as he's expected in that -- in that relationship.  And we still do not have a direction to begin contingency planning for Syria. 

            Now what I would tell you is that -- and being demonstrated by the fact that we have three batteries of Patriots in Turkey, we do have a defense plan of an ally.  One of our strongest and -- and -- and most long-standing allies, Turkey.  And to demonstrate our resolve in the defense of an ally, we have NATO -- more than the U.S. -- NATO has deployed as you know, three batteries of Patriots to -- to address possible tactical ballistic missile threat that might emanate from outside its borders.

            So in the -- in the context of reviewing and making sure that we are well positioned to execute the defense of an ally, we have done that.  But beyond that, we will not plan until we get a NAC Initiating Directive, as did -- neither did my predecessor.  So -- if that's fair. 

            MODERATOR:  Ladies and gentleman, thank you very much.  I apologize, I'm going to have to cut this short.  We're a couple minutes over.  But thank you again for your time, and look forward to your stories. 

            Again, 1900, 7 p.m., hold your stories till then.  Thank you. 

            GEN. BREEDLOVE:  Thank you all.