By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 10, 2013 – The partial government shutdown has not affected U.S. contributions to the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan or other NATO missions, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Brussels today.
“So far we haven’t seen any negative impact on U.S. contributions to NATO-led operations,” Rasmussen said, noting that U.S. military members have been exempted from the shutdown.
Speaking at his monthly news conference, the secretary general also dismissed reported allegations by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that NATO hasn’t done enough in Afghanistan.
“Thanks to the immense efforts and the solemn sacrifices of the troops and civilians from ISAF contributing nations, Afghanistan has come a long way in the past decade,” Rasmussen said. “The changes have been remarkable, and our investment in lives and resources has been unprecedented. Nobody can deny that. And this effort should be respected.”
Rasmussen said he is struck by the Afghan people’s recognition of NATO’s contribution.
“We have sacrificed much in blood and treasure to assist the Afghan people, and … whenever I meet Afghans, they express appreciation for that,” he said.
While working to ensure the sovereignty of the Afghan state, NATO and other troop-contributing nations in Afghanistan have helped build a strong Afghan National Security Force that now numbers about 350,000, Rasmussen said.
“We have seen the resilience and the growing professionalism of Afghan forces,” he said. “And I am confident that the Afghan security forces will be able to take full responsibility by the end of 2014 as planned.”
Meanwhile, Afghanistan is preparing to hold elections next year that will be fully led and managed by the Afghans.
“Six months before the polls, preparations are more advanced than for any other elections in Afghanistan’s modern history,” Rasmussen said.
The registration of candidates was recently completed, with a multi-ethnic lineup of presidential tickets, he said. In addition, women are actively participating as voters, election workers and candidates -- with at least one woman vying for office in every provincial council.
Rasmussen emphasized the importance of “transparent, inclusive and credible” elections, with the results acceptable to the Afghan people so “the political process provides the certainty and predictability that both Afghans and the international community expect.”
He welcomed Great Britain’s offer to host the 2014 NATO Summit at a turning point for the alliance as it prepares to complete the longest and largest operation in its history.
“This will be a critical opportunity to take stock of our ongoing work, including in Afghanistan, and to look to the future,” he said.
“The summit will also ensure that we continue to build on the lessons that we have learned, to strengthen the alliance and keep it ready to deal with modern security challenges,” Rasmussen said.
“It will reaffirm the vital transatlantic bond on which NATO was founded,” he added. “And it will further enhance our partnerships, which are key to our future success in a world where risks cross borders and we are all interconnected.”