By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service
BRUSSELS, Feb. 22, 2013 – The NATO secretary general today pledged “a new and different NATO-led mission after 2014” in Afghanistan.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen spoke to open the session of NATO and non-NATO troop-contributing nations here on the last day of a two-day NATO defense ministers meeting. The International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan will end late in 2014, when Afghan forces will have assumed security responsibility for their nation’s people, he said.
“But our partnership with Afghanistan will continue well beyond the end of transition, and the end of our ISAF mission. … I am pleased that many partners have already offered to join us and are working with us to plan the new mission,” Rasmussen added.
NATO and its ISAF partner nations remain resolute in their support for a sovereign, safe and secure Afghanistan, the secretary general said.
In a news conference here yesterday, Rasmussen noted that while the alliance plans a follow-on mission in Afghanistan, it also is focused on maintaining and building on the capabilities it has gained through two decades of operations from Kosovo to Afghanistan to Libya. Over the next decade, NATO must preserve and pass on those skills, he said, “as our biggest operation comes closer to completion.”
The secretary general said the alliance has adopted the “connected forces” initiative to expand education and training and enhance exercises.
“Today we took an important step forward in that initiative,” Rasmussen said at the news conference. “We agreed on its goals, and asked our military experts to come up with concrete proposals on how to put them into practice.”
NATO’s goal for the initiative, he said, is to hold “more ambitious” military training exercises, with a broader range of scenarios, more often.
“The initiative will include a comprehensive training plan out to 2020, to make sure that our exercises are coherent, comprehensive, and cover the full range of alliance missions,” Rasmussen said. “It will include, in 2015, a major live exercise -- that is, one involving significant numbers of deployed forces, not just command and staff units.”
The NATO Response Force will be the core of the connected forces initiative, he said.
“And we will build on its exercises -- for example, by including the battalion which the United States government has pledged to rotate through Europe for precisely this purpose, and by building in more contributions from other allies and partners,” Rasmussen said. This will make the response force “a cooperation school, as well as a quick-reaction tool -- an immediate resource, but also an investment in the future,” he added.
Rasmussen said NATO also is working to use its common funding, which comes from member nations’ budgets, for high-priority missions that include training, rapid response, and improving intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.
“Over the coming months, we will make those improvements so that every dollar and every euro we spend is well spent,” he said.
The secretary general acknowledged that multinational cooperation doesn't solve all of NATO’s problems and is not a response to all of its challenges.
“We also need a sufficient level of defense investment,” he said. “And that's my major concern -- that if cuts continue, it will damage severely our ability to meet and address the future security challenges.”
NATO officials said yesterday they are discussing a proposal to maintain Afghan army and police forces at 352,000 combined members after 2014, when a previous plan had called for reducing the number to some 240,000.
“Let me stress that no final decisions have been made,” the secretary general said at the news conference. “But I can confirm that it's one of the ideas that is being considered. I feel confident that we will be able to finance Afghan security forces of that size.”
The international community has pledged to help in financing those forces, he added, “because a security force of that size goes well beyond the financial capacity of the Afghan government.”
Rasmussen said NATO alone should not bear the cost for Afghan forces. “This is actually a responsibility for the whole of the international community,” he said. “And that has been confirmed at international conferences.”
Rasmussen noted the proposal makes sense both politically and economically.
“It's better to give the defense of Afghanistan an Afghan face,” he said. “And from an economic point of view, it is actually less expensive to finance Afghan security forces than to deploy foreign troops.”
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta is attending this week’s meetings, and is scheduled to hold a news conference here later today.