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Statement to NATO Defense Ministers

As Prepared for Delivery by Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta, Brussels, Belgium , Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Thank you, Secretary General.

Fellow ministers: eleven years ago this week, on October 7, 2001, our forces began a long fight against Al Qaeda. They also embarked on a mission to help the people of Afghanistan defend their country and determine their destiny. Every nation represented at this table has sacrificed for that cause over the past decade. We in the United States have lost 2,000 of our precious sons and daughters, nations of this coalition have lost hundreds, and the Afghans have lost thousands. We must pledge that our fallen shall not have died in vain. Rather, with our shared goal so close at hand, we must realize the noble purpose to which they dedicated their last full measure. That will take patience, courage, and commitment…in the face of a resilient enemy…and in the face of those who may try to criticize or divide us.

The fact is that 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 one. It was the courageous one. And it has made a decisive difference.

As a result, the Taliban could not regain lost ground in 2011 and lost still more in 2012. Compared to a year ago, more Afghans are secure, and conflict is farther away from population centers. Coalition casualties have decreased by 30 percent from last year, a trend that emerged months before we fully recovered surge forces. At the same time, the number of Afghan security forces has grown to about 350,000, and that larger force has maintained recruitment and retention. Those forces have taken the lead for complex operations and they are suffering far more casualties than coalition forces – a further sign of Afghans’ willingness to sacrifice for their own future. Fighting together, ISAF and Afghan forces have delivered serious blows to the enemy and have brought about a turning point in the campaign.

When conditions supported recovering surge forces, we brought them home, but there are 68,000 Americans are still fighting alongside their coalition and Afghan partners. We are also bringing mountains of equipment home from theater – a huge logistical challenge. The unsung heroes of this chapter in the war are the planners, the logisticians, the drivers, the pilots, and the support team who are carrying out such a daunting task.

With the surge complete, we’ve reached a critical moment for this Alliance and for this war. Let me mention three keys to our future success: first, strong coalition partnership with Afghan forces; second, effective response to insider attacks; and third, careful evolution of the campaign, including key leadership changes I’d like to share with you. 

 

Strong Coalition Partnership with Afghan Forces

First, strong coalition partnership with Afghan forces. We’ve invested a great deal in helping to develop Afghan security forces. Now we must do everything we can to help them successfully transition and take the lead for security throughout all of Afghanistan as planned next year.

The Security Force Assistance Team model is a game-changing approach to fielding an effective fighting force, according to Commanders on the ground. We must build the capabilities of Afghan Army and Police, and ensure they have the embedded trainers and mentors needed to assist them as they take security lead. I urge each of your nations to help eliminate the shortfall of 58 Security Force Assistance Teams by the November Force Generation Conference. The U.S. has filled a disproportionate number of these teams in recent years, and I ask for your help to fill the gap.

We must also review the force generation process as we work to fill requirements for trainers and advisors. The recurring six-month force generation cycle generates uncertainty in our plans and relationships. It is time to consider developing longer-term relationships between ISAF members and Afghan training institutions and field units to reduce that uncertainty and to enhance our training relationships.

 

Effective Response to Insider Attacks

Second, we must have an effective response to insider attacks. Insider attacks are a tragic part of every war. In this war, they are occurring with greater frequency than in the past, and they’ve attracted more media attention in recent months. Whatever motivates these attacks, the enemy intends to use them to undermine mutual trust and cohesion, driving a wedge between us and our Afghan partners. We can only deny the enemy its objective by countering these attacks with all of our strength – and fortifying our resolve with the signs of our progress. General Allen just briefed what we are doing alongside our Afghan partners to diminish and defeat this threat, including:

  • Enhanced training, both pre-deployment and in the field, that emphasizes cultural awareness, counter-intelligence techniques, vigilance, and real-time information sharing;
  • Adaptive levels of partnering based on continuous reviews of threat information;
  • Expansion of vetting and counter-intelligence operations, by our own and by our Afghan partners;
  • Constant emphasis on effective use of “Guardian Angels” and other protective measures to deter attackers and to ensure the ability to respond quickly when an attack begins; and
  • Continuous efforts to analyze attack patterns in order to develop even stronger methods of prevention.

I believe that we can and will counter this threat with these efforts and with the full partnership of Minister of Defense Mohammedi and Minister of Interior Patang. Fellow Ministers, what tests us – what tests this Alliance – is not the problem of insider attacks. What tests us is how we respond to them. Still deeper partnerships, still deeper integration, those are the responses that will frustrate the enemy’s designs to capitalize on this problem.

 

Careful Campaign Evolution and Key Leadership Changes

Third, the evolution of the campaign and key leadership changes. A key challenge ISAF faces over the next two years is to plan and resource for the mid-2013 milestone and for the end of transition in December 2014. We must meet that challenge together. Here are the new realities we will see in the coming year:

  • We will operate from fewer bases;
  • The net flow of material will turn outbound from Afghanistan;
  • U.S. enabler support for ISAF partners will continue but the scope of support will change as transition proceeds and as we jointly reduce our forces;
  • 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. We must follow through on the commitments made by our political leaders at the Chicago Summit, including implementation of the Lisbon framework.

A clear signal of U.S. commitment to this Alliance and to the mission in Afghanistan is the quality of our NATO ISAF leadership team. General Allen has commanded ISAF through a crucial period, and his outstanding leadership has put the campaign on a 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, which are now demonstrating their readiness to take the security lead.

As he completes his tour of duty, I am 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 Europe.

General Allen is well known to all of you, and if confirmed his experience as COMISAF will be instrumental in his broader role and in leading NATO’s oversight of the mission in Afghanistan.

President Obama will nominate General Joseph Dunford, United States Marine Corps, to succeed General Allen as Commander, U.S. Forces Afghanistan, and Commander, ISAF. General Dunford currently serves as the Assistant Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, and he is an exceptionally gifted strategic leader. He is combat-tested. He believes in ISAF and if confirmed will be an extraordinary leader of it.

Lastly, let me take this opportunity to thank Admiral Stavridis for his service. I have trusted his wise counsel and I’ve depended on his ability to sustain our military and political relationships in Brussels and across this region. Jim will be here until the Spring, so we’ll have much more to say about his leadership and service in the coming months.

I thank my fellow ministers for your continued support and consultations with these great leaders, and I am confident that this new NATO ISAF leadership team will carry forward the momentum we’ve achieved together.

All of us need to leave this meeting with the same talking points that reflect reality and unity:

  1. We are succeeding in implementing the campaign plan agreed to in Chicago;
  2. 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 or divert us from our mission.
  3.  “In Together – Out Together”: ISAF will complete our mission to help Afghanistan secure and govern itself.

We, the defense leaders of this historic Alliance, preserve a legacy of mutual determination and sacrifice in the face of danger and difficulty. By uniting our powers to finish the long fight in Afghanistan, we will honor that legacy and pass it intact to future generations in the North Atlantic area and beyond.

We’ve come too far, we’ve fought too many battles, we’ve spilled too much blood, not to finish the job. 

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