BRUSSELS (Pajhwok): NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Wednesday said important signs of progress had been observed in Afghanistan this spring and the Afghan defence minister had assured them the preparations for the June 14 presidential runoff elections were well on track.
Addressing a press conference on the second and last day of the two-day NATO defence ministerial meeting that concluded on Wednesday, Rasmussen said the Afghan security forces did an outstanding job in securing the first round of presidential elections in April.
He said the Afghan people showed great courage by turning out to vote in millions. “Every single vote cast was a victory for democracy and for Afghanistan.”
He said it was vital that the runoff round was carried out transparently and in line with international standards, and the result was both credible and acceptable to the voters of Afghanistan.
“We are also are making progress in delivering on the pledges we made over the past four years, at the NATO summits in Lisbon and Chicago. As we promised, we will complete our combat mission by the end of this year.”
He said as they had promised, a capable Afghan force of 350,000 soldiers and police had been built and the forces were all poised to take full responsibility for their country’s security.
“As we promised, we are also planning a follow-on mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan forces beyond the end of this year.”
He welcomed US President Obama’s recent announcement that showed the US intended to significantly contribute to the Resolute Support. “This is consistent with our planning. Together with the contributions offered by other allies and partners, it shows NATO’s continued commitment to Afghanistan.”
Rasmussen said they had made it clear the Resolute Support Mission could only be launched if the required security arrangements were signed and the necessary legal framework was in place.
“That is why I welcome the fact that both candidates in the presidential election have shown their support to signing the necessary agreements as a priority. It is in all our interest to build on the gains we have made.”
He said NATO remained committed to helping sustain the Afghan forces and committed to an enduring partnership with Afghanistan involving both political consultation and practical cooperation. “This is the best way to help ensure Afghanistan’s security, and our own security.”
To a question that how many NATO troops will take part in the resolute mission after 2014, Rasmussen said they had not yet decided on the exact size, but the US announcement gave an indication for the size of the future mission.
“As I told you we have not discussed and decided on exact figures, but based on the American announcement, I‘m confident that other allies and partners will contribute also in a significant way based on these announcements and indications.”
“I can tell you, also based on my conversation with our military commanders that I’m confident that we will get the necessary resources to carry out what I would call a fully-fledged train, advice and assist mission.”
About what will happen after 2016, the NATO chief said they had not yet taken a decision on the duration of a future mission. “Our relationship with Afghanistan will be determined by the content of our enduring partnership that will be developed in the coming weeks and months, discussed and maybe also some decisions taken at the summit in Wales.”
He said they looked forward to engaging with the new Afghan president and discussing their enduring partnership with Afghanistan. “It will be that enduring partnership that will shape our relationship and activities in Afghanistan after 2016.”
Regarding external security challenges, including terrorist activities, the NATO chief emphasized that the alliance-led Resolute Support mission would be a non-combat mission.
He said the US based on the bilateral agreement with Afghanistan would probably conduct counterterrorism activities in collaboration with the Kabul government as seen from President Obama’s announcement. “And I think that will be the most robust answer to external threats.”