Secretary General Sets Stage for NATO Defense Ministers Meeting
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 3, 2011 NATO defense ministers will discuss operations in Libya, Afghanistan and Kosovo, as well as the need for the alliance to increase its capabilities, when they meet in Brussels later this week, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said today.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta will join his NATO counterparts at the alliance’s headquarters for the discussions.
At a news conference previewing the ministerial conference, Rasmussen called NATO’s effort to protect civilians in Libya “a great success.”
“The United Nations Security Council called for action,” he said. “NATO decided to respond. We put together a complete package of measures by air and sea to protect the people of Libya. And we are near to successfully completing that task.
Operation Unified Protector has done what we said it would do. We have kept our commitment to the United Nations, to the region, and to the Libyan people.”
The NATO defense ministers and their International Security Assistance Force partners will meet to discuss the “significant progress” that has taken place in Afghanistan since they last met, the secretary general said.
“Transition is fully on track, and we will not allow insurgents to derail it,” he said. “Already, Afghan forces are providing lead security for a quarter of the population. I expect the next stage of transition to be announced soon, and I expect it to be substantial. And at the same time, our military authorities assess that the insurgency has been weakened overall.”
Noting that insurgents continue to launch spectacular attacks to create the perception that violence is on the rise in Afghanistan, Rasmussen acknowledged that levels of violence are a concern. “However,” he added, “our commanders are confident that security incidents initiated by insurgent groups are lower than last year.”
About a year ago, he said, NATO officials said the situation in Afghanistan’s Helmand province would get worse before it got better as the alliance focused its efforts there.
“Now, we are seeing the results of our efforts,” Rasmussen said. “Attacks since June are significantly lower than last year. In fact, some districts in central Helmand have seen reductions in violence of nearly 80 percent. So our strategy is working, and we should concentrate on the competence of the Afghan security forces in dealing with attacks. That will remain our focus as we complete transition by the end of 2014 --– and as we continue to stand with the Afghan people after 2014.”
Recent events in Kosovo, Rasmussen said, have provided “sharp reminders of how quickly tensions can arise and how important NATO’s mission remains.” On Sept. 27, ethnic Serbs and NATO forces clashed at a disputed border crossing, and four NATO peacekeepers were injured by pipe bombs.
“[NATO’s Kosovo Force] is there to maintain a safe and secure environment for all the people of Kosovo, regardless of their ethnicity,” the secretary general said. “And we will continue to do so --– firmly, carefully and impartially, in full compliance with our United Nations mandate.
“That is what our troops have been doing for the last 12 years, at considerable risk to their own safety,” he continued. “NATO forces will always use the minimum force necessary, but they have the right to self-defense. That is what they did on Sept. 27.”
Also on the defense ministers’ agenda, Rasmussen said, is a discussion focused on building the alliance’s capabilities.
“My message is clear: improving our capabilities is not only necessary -- it's vital,” he said. “We have to spend on priorities, and spend together, by funding projects that will improve security for all.”
NATO operations in Libya and Afghanistan have shown, for example, that the allies must continue to improve their drone, intelligence and refueling capabilities, he said, adding that the alliance cannot rely on a single ally to provide for those needs.
In addition, the secretary general said, NATO is considering a wide range of projects to protect its troops and to make better use of available resources.
Rasmussen noted that Poland, Romania and Turkey have agreed to host key elements of NATO’s missile defense system, and that he expects to declare at the alliance’s May summit in Chicago that the system has attained interim operational capability.
“There are many different examples, but the bottom line is this: no capability, no operation,” he said. “If we want NATO to remain credible, we have to be able to act. And if we want to be able to act, we have to keep and acquire the capabilities to act. I will be encouraging ministers to identify projects their nations would be willing to lead in the coming months, and I will ask them all for their commitment to making these projects a reality as we head toward our Chicago summit.”