By Terri Moon Cronk, DoD News, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON -- Threats to collective security have not waned, whether from terrorism or Russia’s aggression and hybrid threats, Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said at NATO headquarters in Brussels today.
In the global fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the U.S.-led coalition “will continue to carry out operations necessary to crush the physical caliphate and prevent a resurgence of ISIS,” the secretary said at a news conference following a NATO defense ministers meeting.
“We will be unrelenting in our effort, working with like-minded nations. We will target ISIS around the world, for this remains a global fight,” he said.
And to support those efforts, NATO is transitioning its existing activity in Iraq into a sustainable training mission, the secretary said.
“In concert with the new Iraqi government, we will capitalize on Iraq’s success and reinforce their long-term counterterrorism efforts,” Mattis said. “We cannot allow ISIS or any other terrorist group to terrorize the people of this region, again driving thousands of refugees from their homes and into Europe and elsewhere.”
On NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan, NATO’s steadfast commitment and the implementation of the U.S. South Asia strategy have renewed stabilization efforts, now including additional, significant development funding from India, the secretary said.
“Afghan security forces continue to improve,” he said, adding that all six Afghan corps are deployed throughout the country, demonstrating Afghan resolve while their government pursues a stable, inclusive order for its people with NATO support.
“The level of confidence today is sufficient for [Afghan President Ashraf Ghani] to announce a temporary cease-fire for the end of Ramadan, offering the Taliban an opportunity to bring to an end this fighting and providing the world a clear demonstration of his government’s and our alliance’s commitment to peace and an Afghan-led, and an Afghan-owned peace process.”
Burden Sharing Improves
The secretary said NATO nations have stepped up their defense spending and reversed a three-year downward spiral, with 100 percent participation in 2017. “We also saw an across-NATO increase in military spending in a quarter century” last year, he added.
“Now, in 2018, eight nations are already meeting the 2 percent [of gross domestic product in defense spending] pledge benchmark, and I salute the 15 allies who are on track to reach 2 percent by 2024,” Mattis said.
Many allies are making investments beyond the monetary aspect of contributions, he noted. “I appreciate the troops and the leadership these nations provide to support NATO’s Kosovo [and] Afghanistan forward presence and other missions,” Mattis said.
“With [NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s] capable leadership, we also continue to improve the speed of political decision making,” the secretary said. “Coupled with building NATO’s military readiness, speed of alliance consultation and decision making [provide] a credible deterrent to any who would threaten our democracies.”
European Union Partners
Mattis said the alliance’s defense ministers also engaged European Union partners on security cooperation and military mobility. “[With] our defense cooperation with the EU, NATO recognizes effective deterrence and defense depends on a transparent dialogue between us,” he said.
“We also recognized that uncoordinated investments that waste resources or duplicate alliance efforts undercut our collective deterrence and defense posture, so we found further areas for cooperation and alignment,” he said.
“[For] nearly 70 years, the NATO alliance has served to uphold the values and the principles on which our democracies were founded,” Mattis said. “The American people remain committed to this alliance, and we look forward to working together to sustain our core function -- the collective defense of our people -- while fostering peace and security.”