Panetta, NATO Defense Ministers Meet in Brussels
By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
BRUSSELS, Oct. 4, 2011 Lessons learned during NATO operations in Libya and Afghanistan and future defense needs of the alliance will be the focus of Leon E. Panetta’s first participation in meetings with NATO defense ministers as secretary of defense.
During the two-day conference that begins tomorrow, Panetta also will discuss an ongoing effort called Allied Ground Surveillance, or AGS, a system of unmanned aerial vehicles that will give NATO an important intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability.
For the secretary, the ministerial meeting begins with a speech about the state of the NATO alliance at the Carnegie Europe Center, part of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a senior defense official said.
For the rest of the day, Panetta will attend NATO sessions on Libya, ongoing operations in Kosovo, and a counterpiracy effort called Operation Ocean Shield.
He also will hold bilateral meetings with his German counterpart, Thomas de Maiziere; his French counterpart, Hervé Morin; and his Portuguese counterpart, José Pedro Aguiar-Branco.
In the meeting with de Maiziere, with whom Panetta has spoken by phone, though they have not met in person, discussion will focus on Afghanistan, where Germany is in charge of Regional Command North with a headquarters at Camp Marmal near Mazar-e Sharif in the Balkh province.
They also are to discuss alliance capabilities issues that will be on the ministerial agenda.
Panetta is to meet with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen before the conference begins.
Later, in another session, ministers are to discuss moving ahead on items in the Lisbon Critical Capabilities Commitment -- 10 priorities that include cyber defense, command and control, strategic lift, roadside bomb defenses and others, including AGS.
Tomorrow’s final session is over dinner, the defense official said, where Panetta and his colleagues will discuss the “smart defense” concept championed by Rasmussen for the alliance.
As part of this, he added, French Gen. Stéphane Abria, NATO’s supreme allied commander for transformation, will brief the group on work performed under a task force he heads on multilateral initiative, including cooperative efforts in procurement, logistics, military medicine and multilateral support for future operations.
The second day begins with a meeting of the 48 NATO and non-NATO contributors of troops to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.
Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, commander of ISAF and U.S. Forces Afghanistan, will brief on ground operations in Afghanistan and the progress of the transition process. Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Abdul Rahim Wardak also will attend.
Panetta is likely to address progress to date in weakening the Taliban and the fight against al-Qaida and its affiliates around the world, the defense official said, along with progress being made on the ground by the Afghanistan Security Forces.
The secretary will hold a news conference in the afternoon and will attend a meeting chaired by de Maiziere with representatives of 18 nations -- including Belgium, Finland, Norway, and Turkey -- who participate in Regional Command North.
Panetta likely will discuss U.S. plans for the surge recovery in the north, the defense official said, where there is a certain dependence on the United States for enabling capabilities there.