Defense Ministers got an early start this morning at NATO HQ with lots of things to discuss on the second and final day of the Defense Ministerial.
First, the Defense Chiefs met in KFOR format, meaning there were represenatives from the 23 Allies and 7 Partners that contribute the 6,148 troops to the mission in Kosovo present. The Defence Ministers reviewed the implications of the security situation on NATO troop levels in Kosovo and reiterated that NATO’s goal is to keep moving towards a smaller and more flexible troop presence when circumstances allow and when the time is right.
Before the meeting started, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen noted that “KFOR has done an excellent job in maintaining a safe and secure environment for all people in Kosovo. And it will continue to fully implement its mandate”, and that over the last several months, “the security situation on the ground has improved” and the people of Kosovo now enjoy a ”greater freedom of movement.”
Next, Defense Chiefs met in ISAF Format; all 28 Allies and 22 contributing Partners. Ministers reflected both on progress and on remaining challenges in the country, and chief among these challenges are insider attacks. Ministers endorsed a broad political framework for a new training, advising and assisting mission in Afghanistan post-2014, which is the first political step that will guide NATO’s military authorities as they take the planning process forwards for this new mission.
After a working lunch break, Secretary Panetta held a meeting with Afghanistan’s new Minister of Defense, General Bismillah Mohammadi, to discuss a number of issues pertaining to the ISAF Mission and U.S.-Afghan bilateral relations.
In the afternoon, NATO Secretary General Rasmussen gave a press briefing on progress made during the day. He emphasized that real progress has been made in Afghanistan and that the security situation is improving. Despite a spat of insider attacks, the Secretary General made clear that ISAF’s “goals, strategy, and timeline remain unchaged.” Insider attacks, he continued, are aimed at “underminind the trust and confidence” built between ISAF and ANSF troops, but will not succeed or hinder the mission.
Shortly after the Secretary General spoke, Secretary Panetta took the stage to announce the nomination of General John Allen, currently the Commander of ISAF (COMISAF) in Afghanistan, as the new Supreme Allied Commander in Europe (SACEUR). Panetta also announced that President Obama has nominated General Joseph Dunford as the new COMISAF. Secretary Panetta expressed his confidence in both Generals in their new roles within the NATO Command Structure and gave them his full support.
While making these announcements, the Secretary spoke of three “keys for success” in Afghanistan. First, he called for NATO to maintain a strong coalition partnership with the ANSF and continue to help build the Afghan army and police’s capabilities in maintaining their own security. Second, Secretary Panetta said the Alliance must have an effective response to insider attacks, and take action to diminish and defeat them. Finally, the Secretary said that the Alliane must carefuly execute its plans and that NATO’s future presense in Afghanistan must be “steadfast and effective” as the mission timeline moves forward and ISAF continues to step back.
After his announcements, Secretary Panetta took the stage once again to answer journalists’ questions. He reiterated the U.S.’s committement to Turkey’s security as a NATO ally and that all efforts are being made to aid Turkey on the humanitarian front in dealing with countless refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria, and monitoring the status of Syria’s chemical and biological weapons.
Immediately after the briefing, Secretary Panetta joined his Spanish counterpart in the U.S. Mission to sign an agreement on the hosting of American Aegis destroyers in Spain as part of NATO’s ongoing efforts in missile defense. The Secretary said that the agreement “not only strengthens missile defense for Europe, but also the relationship within NATO” and “betters our ability to promote peace throughout the world.”
Finally, Secretary Panetta took the time to present the Department of Defense’s Joint Meritorious Unit Award to U.S. Mission to NATO staff for their work during the Libya campaign last year. At the ceremony, he expressed his gratitude to the Mission staff for their hard work during the crisis, and extended his personal recognition of that work. The award is granted to units or personnel who operate under a Unified, Combined, or Specified Command channels or pursue a joint mission - NATO’s operation in Libya falls well within this category.
After the ceremony, Secretary Panetta and his motorcade left NATQ HQ to head back to the airport and home to the United States. A short trip, but one during which a lot was accomplished!
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(Photos taken by Erin Kirk-Cuomo and USNATO staff)