NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen held a final press conference on February 22, 2013, after meetings of NATO Defence Ministers regarding the International Security Assistance Force and the transition in Afghanistan.
We have just had a very good discussion with the representatives of the 50 countries which make up the ISAF coalition, together with Afghan Defence Minister.
It is almost two years since we began the transition to Afghan security responsibility. There have been challenges. But in those two years we have made real progress.
Two years ago, the Afghan forces were in the lead in the Kabul area only. Now they are taking the lead in areas where 87% of Afghans live. And in a matter of months, they will start assuming the lead for the security of 100% of Afghans.
At the same time, they have grown more capable and confident. Compared with this time two years ago, they are better trained and educated. More effective. And there are 75,000 more of them.
They now lead some 80% of operations. In the areas where they have taken the lead, security has remained stable, or has improved. And they have dealt with insurgent attacks with great courage and professionalism.
Later this year, they will take the next step: they will start moving into the lead right across Afghanistan. And at the same time, ISAF's main effort will shift from combat to support.
That will be an important milestone. It will mark the progress we have made, with Afghan forces in command of combat operations across the nation. And we will make sure that Afghan forces have the support they need as they assume full responsibility for their own security by the end of 2014.
Today, we have reinforced our commitment on the way forward for our new mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan Security Forces after 2014. This will be a different mission from ISAF and will be significantly smaller in size.
Our new mission will focus on national and institutional level training. And we envision a regional approach more limited than our current mission. But Afghans can be confident that our support will go well beyond the end of transition in 2014.
Of course security is only one part of the challenge. It is just as important to build good governance and reinforce democracy and human rights.
NATO and the broader international community will continue to help Afghanistan. But it is for the Afghan people to shape their country's future. We can help build security, but only the Afghan people can build their society.
Now this morning, we also held a session of the NATO-Ukraine Commission.
Ukraine is a significant partner for NATO, and makes a significant contribution to our operations in Afghanistan and Kosovo.
And later this year, I expect Ukraine to become the first partner to contribute a ship to our counter-piracy operation off the Horn of Africa.
This shows that our partnership is good for security.
And NATO Allies made clear today that they are determined to make our partnership stronger. And to support Ukraine as it makes its defence and security sector more modern, better managed and more democratically accountable.
Our partnership is based on values – including the principles of democracy, the rule of law and human rights.
NATO Allies have already made clear their concerns about the selective application of justice and what appear to be politically-motivated prosecutions in Ukraine. These issues are of real concern for NATO. They are of real importance in our partnership with Ukraine. We look to Ukraine to address these issues.
Because we want a strong relationship with a strong Ukraine. And we are committed to building it.
With that, I am ready to take your questions.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen (NATO Secretary General): (...) And with that, I'm ready to take your questions.
Oana Lungescu (NATO Spokesperson): We'll have just a few questions. We'll start with Reuters in the middle.
Q: Secretary General, Adrian Croft from Reuters. Can I ask whether the US or any other Ally at this meeting provided any figures as to how many troops they plan to leave in Afghanistan after 2014? And could you expand on what you said about the regional approach going to be taken? And could I ask you also to explain what was the reasoning behind what you said yesterday about the Afghan force levels being kept to 352,000 for longer? Couldn't that send a negative signal about security in Afghanistan?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: First, on concrete figures, no. It's a bit premature. Today, we have discussed certain guidelines for continued planning. But no decision has been made on concrete figures. As... And the same goes for the regional approach. I just want to indicate that we will pursue a regional approach. That is: the new training mission will not be centralized in just one location. We will have more than one centre. But again, no concrete decision has been made as regards exactly how many and where they should be located.
As regards the future size of the Afghan Security Forces, again let me stress, as I did yesterday, no decision has been made. There are some considerations, yes. But we have not taken any decision yet as regards the future size and for how long we will keep that size of the Afghan Security Forces.
Actually, I think the Afghans appreciate that today's meeting delivered a very, very clear message; a very clear commitment from all ISAF Coalition partners that we will stand by Afghanistan also after 2014. We will not leave behind a security vacuum. We will leave behind a very strong, very capable Afghan Security Force. And we will stay to give advice, to assist, to train those Afghan Security Forces.
Oana Lungescu: Shamshad TV.
Q: Thank you, it has been clear that US $4.1 billion has been pledged to support ANSF during transition period which is only enough for... to hand it... to attain thousands of troops, not for the existing number 352,000. So has any extra pledge been made during this meeting to increase the needed amount of funding which is supposed to be around $6.1 billion?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Let me stress two points. Firstly, no concrete decision has been made as regards to future size of the Afghan Security Forces. And secondly, there have been no new requests as regards funding. This is an issue that will be solved down the road.
Oana Lungescu: Ukrainian media here.
Q: About cooperation with Ukraine which recently dropped its longstanding aim of joining NATO. Is it now clear for you what Ukraine wants from its cooperation with the Alliance? Would you welcome if Kiev changed its mind again and decided actually be a member of the Alliance?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: Yes, I will reiterate what we have said previously that the decision we took in Bucharest in 2008 that Georgia and Ukraine will become members of NATO, this decision still stands. But obviously, it's for Ukraine to decide herself how the relationship between Ukraine and NATO should develop in the coming years.
We fully respect the non-alignment policy, the non-bloc policy or whatever you might call it. That's for Ukraine to decide. I take from the meeting we had today, as well as from talks I've had previously with the president that Ukraine has a strong interest in further developing practical cooperation with NATO, with a particular focus on reforms of defence and the security sector. And furthermore, Ukraine has provided significant contributions to NATO-led operations. And today the defence minister and I exchanged letters that will provide the formal framework for a future Ukrainian contribution to our counter-piracy operation.
Actually, that's a first time a partner contributes to our counter-piracy operation. So it's a testament to I would say a solid Ukrainian commitment to the partnership.... what we call the distinctive partnership between Ukraine and NATO. So I foresee that we will see further development of that partnership in the coming years.
Oana Lungescu: Thank you very much. I'm afraid that's all we have time for today. Thank you.