By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen discussed progress in Afghanistan, the brutal civil war in Syria and the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks during his monthly news conference.
Rasmussen called the 11th anniversary of the attacks “a moment to remember the citizens of 25 NATO and partner countries who died that day, and all the victims of terrorist atrocities around the alliance and around the world, from Madrid and London to Istanbul, Bali and beyond.”
Speaking from NATO headquarters in Brussels, Rasmussen said terrorism never can be justified or tolerated, and that NATO is determined to play its full role in the fight against it. “It is vital to our own security, and it is vital for the values and principles of international law that we uphold,” he added.
Allies and partners work tirelessly to detect and prevent terrorist acts, the secretary general said, “and that is why we have more than 120,000 soldiers in Afghanistan -- to ensure that country can never again serve as a sanctuary [from which] terrorists can plan and launch attacks against our countries.”
On the months-long civil war being waged between the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and Syrian rebels, Rasmussen said NATO has no intention of intervening militarily in the conflict.
“We do believe the right way forward is to find a political solution,” he said, “and we urge the international community to send a strong and unified message to the Syrian leadership to accommodate the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people. So our position remains unchanged.”
Regarding Afghanistan, Rasmussen said the alliance views insider attacks on the coalition by Afghan security forces with great concern.
“We are looking very carefully into each one, and we are doing everything we can, together with our Afghan partners, to reduce the risks as much as we can,” the secretary general said, outlining some of the steps being taken.
“The vetting and screening of recruits is getting stronger. We are seeing better counterintelligence efforts. [International Security Assistance Force] and Afghan forces are getting more training to understand cultural differences. And we are constantly adapting the measures to protect our forces to the situation on the ground,” he explained.
Last week, Rasmussen said, he discussed the attacks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and they agreed to do everything they can to tackle the problem.
“We will simply not allow the enemies of Afghanistan to change our strategy,” Rasmussen said, “and we will not allow them to drive a wedge between us and our Afghan partners.”
Every day, he noted, tens of thousands of ISAF and Afghan troops fight together against the same threat and for the same goal.
“We know that despite these tragic incidents, the vast majority of our forces have a bond of trust with their Afghan comrades and many Afghans have sacrificed their lives for ours.”
Challenges and setbacks should not overshadow the significant progress made so far, Rasmussen added.
“Afghan forces are getting more professional, more confident and better equipped,” he said. “Within weeks, they will reach their full strength of 352,000.”
The Afghan forces are genuinely moving into the lead, assuming more responsibility in the campaign and taking the lead in providing security for three quarters of the population, the secretary general said, and every Afghan province is part of this process.
“The insurgents are being pushed further back from the population,” he said, adding that 80 percent of their attacks take place in areas where just 20 percent of the population lives.
In what Rasmussen called an “unstoppable” process of transition, ISAF will continue to train and support the Afghan forces over the next 28 months so they can assume full responsibility for security.
“It makes a big difference that the face of the defense of Afghanistan in the future will be a very visible Afghan face,” the secretary-general said. “The enemies of Afghanistan will now be faced with their compatriots in the fighting. This will also make it more difficult for the Taliban and others to claim that this is a fight against foreign invaders, which is one of their most popular propaganda claims.
“Already now it’s clear that the Taliban can’t prevail on the battlefield,” he continued, “and that’s the reason why the Taliban and others resort to cowardly attacks against civilians, including children, as we have seen recently.”
As Afghans step forward, ISAF is moving into a supporting role, he said. “Planning for our new mission -- to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces -- is already under way, and I expect the initial guidance to be completed in the next few weeks,” he added.
Rasmussen said he will discuss the NATO mission in Afghanistan and other global security challenges in New York when the United Nations General Assembly meets later this month.
“We all know the cost of our mission in Afghanistan, and the investment we have made over the years,” he said. “So let me say this: we have an important goal and a mandate from the United Nations. Our strategy is set, our timeline is clear. And we will stay the course.”