Progress in Kosovo and ‘no rush for the exit’ in Afghanistan
By Nigel Chamberlain and Ian Davis, NATO Watch
Note: The ministerial discussions took place behind closed doors and NATO Watch is reliant on subsequent NATO press statements and briefings, as well as briefings to journalists and statements by individual ministers to try and piece together key discussions and outcomes.
Session 1 – Kosovo with non-NATO KFOR partner nations
In his opening remarks, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that the security situation on the ground in Kosovo has improved since February and “as a result of the combined efforts by KFOR and EULEX, there is now greater freedom of movement”. He expected that Ministers would review the security situation in the northern part of Kosovo, where tensions remain, and would consider how the relationship with the Kosovo Security Force can be developed.
Opening his Press conference after the session, the Secretary General said that Ministers remain committed to sustaining KFOR’s role in Kosovo and welcomed the re-launching of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina which has been facilitated by the EU. Asked by AP about the possibility of reducing the size of KFOR, Rasmussen said that Ministers did not discuss troop reductions but “because of the volatile situation we have witnessed during the recent 12 months, we have postponed the decision to reduce the number of troops in Kosovo”.
Reuters subsequently reported German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere as saying that the EU's police force in Kosovo needed to be completely overhauled as it was failing to do its job properly and placing an unreasonable burden on NATO forces. "Germany is not satisfied with the situation”, he said, "we need a new start, a new name, a new structure, new people and a new mandate. In any case, it's on the wrong track. We need to sort that out at the EU level”.
Session 2 – Afghanistan with non-NATO ISAF contributing nations
In his opening remarks, the Secretary General said the strategy to hand over security responsibility to the Afghan forces and the commitment to a strong, stable and sovereign Afghanistan would be reaffirmed. He said that drawdowns and redeployments of ISAF forces would continue, but will not be speeded up. He expected that Ministers would endorse the broad framework for the post-2014, non-combat mission, the planning for which is “well underway”.
During the post-session Press conference, he said: “Today, NATO defence ministers and the ministers from our potential operational partners concluded the first stage of planning for that new mission. … I expect us to agree on a detailed outline early next year, and to complete the plan well before the end of 2013.”
He added that some forces will be redeploying or drawing down as part of the transition but there will be “no rush for the exit”. Picking up on this theme, a reporter from the BBC asked for an idea of the scale of the drawdown as the British Defence Secretary has said that it will be significant as far British troops are concerned. Rasmussen said: “No, we have not yet taken the decision on the size of the training mission post-2014. … We have not today discussed how exactly to shape the drawdown. … But let me tell you that drawdowns, redeployments will follow an overall plan and be well coordinated within the ISAF Coalition.”
In further explaining the agreed transition process he said there would be ‘no rush for the exits’ three more times.
Radio Free Afghanistan asked about the perception in Afghanistan that by withdrawing combat forces in 2014, NATO was leaving an unfinished war behind. Rasmussen replied that: “We will definitely not leave behind a security vacuum. … I feel confident that the Afghan Security Forces will be able to take full responsibility for the security by the end of 2014”.
Associated Press subsequently reported that US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had urged NATO Defence Ministers to help fill the shortfall of military training teams in Afghanistan in order to build the capabilities of the Afghan forces so they can take control of their country's security by the end of 2014.
In a statement Panetta asked that they provide the 58 teams that are needed, and give those commitments by the November Force Generation Conference. "The U.S. has filled a disproportionate number of these teams in recent years, and I ask for your help to fill the gap," Panetta said, calling this a ‘critical moment’ in the war. The statement also outlined General Allen’s briefing to the ministers on what was being done to reduce insider threats, including:
• Enhanced training, both pre-deployment and in the field, that emphasizes cultural awareness, counter-intelligence techniques, vigilance, and real-time information sharing;
• Adaptive levels of partnering based on continuous reviews of threat information;
• Expansion of vetting and counter-intelligence operations, by our own and by our Afghan partners;
• Constant emphasis on effective use of “Guardian Angels” and other protective measures to deter attackers and to ensure the ability to respond quickly when an attack begins; and
• Continuous efforts to analyze attack patterns in order to develop even stronger methods of prevention.
Earlier in the week, the UN Security Council extended ISAF’s authorization in Afghanistan for another year, giving the coalition UN approval to operate until 13 October 2013. According to Reuters, Nikolay Korchunov, Russia's acting ambassador to NATO said that Russia would stop cooperating with NATO over Afghanistan after 2014 unless the alliance gets UN Security Council authorisation for its new training mission. An unnamed NATO official is quoted as saying only that it would be "helpful" to have such a resolution, but stopped short of saying it was essential. German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere told reporters that an invitation from the Afghan government was a "pre-condition" for the post-2014 NATO mission and that “we would want to have” a UNSC resolution as well.
Postscript on defence capabilities (Day 1)
BAE Systems and EADS have decided to cancel their planned merger, after talks were thwarted by political deadlock. UK Defence Secretary Philip Hammond told BBC News that the differences between the national governments had made the deal "too difficult".