By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 1, 2012 – NATO defense ministers and partners will meet next week to discuss the alliance’s defense capabilities and missions in Kosovo and Afghanistan, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said today in Brussels.
On Afghanistan, NATO officials and partners will reaffirm efforts to transfer full responsibility to the Afghans by the end of 2014, Rasmussen said during his monthly news conference.
“Our strategy is to build up the capacity of the Afghan security forces and gradually hand over to them lead responsibility for the security across the country,” he said. Afghan security forces already have security lead in areas where 75 percent of the Afghan population lives, Rasmussen added, and Afghanistan soon will reach its goal of 352,000 members serving in its security forces.
“At that time, our current ISAF combat mission will end, and from 2015, it and will be followed by a NATO-led mission to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces,” Rasmussen said. “The goal, the strategy and the timeline remain unchanged.” European and NATO foreign ministers meeting in New York last week solidified that commitment, he added.
The secretary general also acknowledged that NATO is undergoing a “challenging period,” due at least in part to so-called insider attacks, in which members of Afghanistan’s security forces or insurgents wearing Afghan uniforms attack members of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
“We look at these attacks with the utmost concern,” he said.
Rasmussen said he and other officials are determined to challenge the attacks, especially since ISAF and Afghan forces not only face similar threats, but also share the goal of a sovereign, stable and secure Afghanistan.
“The insurgents are trying to undermine our partnership and drive a wedge between us,” Rasmussen said. “We will not let them succeed.”
Most ISAF units continue to conduct normal partnered operations as Afghan forces assume responsibility for large areas of the country, the secretary general said, and the initial results are promising.
“In the regional command for Kabul, … enemy-initiated attacks fell by 17 percent in the first eight months of this year compared with the same period last year,” he said. “And when the enemy did launch attacks, the Afghan forces took the lead in dealing with them.”
At their upcoming Brussels meeting, the secretary general said he expects NATO defense ministers will take the next step in plans to provide training, assistance and advice to Afghan forces beyond 2014.
“We have already begun the planning process,” he added, “and I expect ministers to conclude the first phase by approving the broad framework for the mission.” Ideally, he added, partners and allies will begin a detailed transition plan by 2013 to better ensure a seamless transition.
“Our partners share our interest in cooperative security,” Rasmussen said. “They share the burden of our operations, so it’s only right they should share the planning of our operations to which they have committed.”
Rasmussen said the defense ministers also will discuss the alliance’s “Smart Defense” initiative, which calls for sharing capabilities to help NATO continue its work as defense budgets shrink.
“We will make sure we keep up the momentum on Smart Defense, finding more ways to become more efficient in the way we go about the business of security,” he said.
During the alliance’s May 2012 summit in Chicago, Rasmussen noted, NATO member and partner nations approved a list of 22 multinational products that give allies access to crucial capabilities with less strain on their budgets. The initiatives include cost-effective methods in clearing roadside bombs, sharing smart munitions and pooling maritime patrol aircraft, Rasmussen said.
He also noted that he expects about 10 more projects to emerge in coming months, with some 100 additional initiatives in development.