War on Terrorism

Monday, June 10, 2013

Hagel describes post-ISAF Afghanistan mission

by Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

6/10/2013 - BRUSSELS -- The United States will be the largest single contributor to the follow-on NATO operation that will replace the International Security Assistance Force mission in Afghanistan in 2015 and beyond, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said at NATO headquarters June 5.

Hagel told reporters during a news conference that defense minister meetings brought some clarity to the "Resolute Support" operation NATO will launch to train, advise and assist Afghan forces after those forces have assumed full security responsibility by the end of 2014.

The secretary spent two days in meetings with his fellow NATO defense ministers, with  sessions on June 5 centered on planning alliance support for post-2014 Afghanistan.

Hagel's news conference followed NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen's. Rasmussen told reporters Resolute Support will be a much smaller mission with five regional components: one each in Afghanistan's east, west, north and south, and the fifth in the Afghan capital of Kabul. Rasmussen explained the train, advise and assist mission will put trainers at the national level, such as the ministries of defense and interior, and at the corps level of Afghan army and police forces.

Hagel said the U.S. role will be as the overall framework nation, with geographic responsibility in the east and south, the areas of strongest insurgent resistance to the Afghan government.

"We appreciate the commitments other nations are making, including the announcements by Germany and Italy that they will serve as lead nations for the west and the north," the secretary said. "Turkey has also indicated they are favorably considering serving as the framework nation in Kabul."

Hagel said U.S. support will include "new, expert, professional assistance to the [Afghan] army in the area of contracting and fuel support, not just soldiers." He added, "We intend to be there for the long haul, and I made that commitment very clear today."

The secretary also discussed NATO nations' defense spending in an era when growing security challenges strongly signal the need to invest in new capabilities. Hagel said ministers discussed how to plan such investment in the face of widespread budget constraints among alliance members.

Hagel noted his own department is studying ways to cut spending, but added that he assured his counterparts that the United States is "not considering any reductions that will affect NATO's ability to fulfill its core tasks of collective defense, crisis management and cooperative security."

The U.S. commitment to NATO remains ironclad, the secretary said. "Still, overdependence on any one country for critical capabilities brings with it risks," he said. "And as European defense investment continues to decline, the alliance's dependence on the United States is growing."

Hagel said he told his fellow ministers that to justify U.S. investment in the alliance to the American people, "we must be able to demonstrate that our NATO partners are willing to ... share in this burden."

Turning to cyber, the secretary said the NATO defense ministerial session devoted exclusively to cybersecurity that occurred June 4 sharpened ministers' awareness that failure to get ahead of the threat could lead to "loss of life or serious economic consequences."

Rasmussen noted June 4 that NATO will form rapid-response teams to counter cyberattacks on its own networks and, eventually, to aid allies who request assistance in the face of attacks on their systems.

Libya also was an agenda item this week, Hagel noted. Defense ministers agreed to respond to the Libyan government's request for training assistance, he added.

"We will develop a plan for how NATO can play a role in boosting the capacity of the Libyan government to secure its borders and counter terrorism," he said. "This effort will enhance security for the Libyan people, and it will help address a security challenge on Europe's southern flank."

Hagel said now is a defining time for the transatlantic alliance, noting that President Barack Obama and Rasmussen agreed during their meeting last week to hold a NATO summit in 2014.

"This summit will help keep the alliance on a path for the future, following the end of the combat mission in Afghanistan," he said. "I look forward to working to help defend our common interests

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