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11 August 2003

Afghan Foreign Minister Welcomes NATO leadership of ISAF

NATO's command marks first non-European operation in its history

Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah expressed his confidence that the new NATO-led International Security Force for Afghanistan (ISAF) will have a positive role in bringing security to Afghanistan.

Abdullah, speaking at an August 11 press conference in Kabul, praised the ISAF mission on the occasion of its change of command from German and Dutch leadership to NATO.

"We believe that this cooperation and partnership will strengthen the foundation of peace, stability and sustainable security for our country and will have a positive and lasting impact on our region as well," he said.

The assumption of command in Afghanistan marks the first time NATO has operated outside of Europe in its 54-year history. NATO Supreme Commander in Europe James Jones remarked that the takeover "signals to the rest of the world that NATO as an alliance has a will to play in the global community."

ISAF remains under the mandate of the United Nations, but the alliance will be responsible for the planning and command of the peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan.

At the change of command ceremony held in Kabul earlier in the day, German Lieutenant-General Götz Gliemeroth was appointed commander of the mission and Canadian Army officer, Major-General Andrew Leslie, is the new Deputy Commander.

NATO's ISAF operation is under the overall command of the Allied Command Operations, run by the Joint Force Commander General Sir Jack Deverall of the British Army at NATO's Regional Headquarters Allied Forces North Europe (RHQ AFNORTH), according to news reports. More than 31 NATO and non-NATO countries contribute troops to ISAF.

Following is the transcript of a press conference on NATO's takeover of the ISAF command:

(begin transcript)

PRESS CONFERENCE

NATO TAKEOVER OF ISAF COMMAND

KABUL, AFGHANISTAN

AUGUST 11, 2003


Moderator (Mark Laity, special advisor to NATO Secretary General): Let's start the press conference. Today, we have gathered here today representatives from Afghanistan, Germany, ISAF, and NATO. We will begin with a couple of opening statements. My colleague here, the spokesperson for the Afghan Foreign Ministry, will introduce Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah.

Foreign Minister Abdullah (in Dari): The ISAF will remain under the United Nation mandate in Kabul, but its command will be transferred to NATO. Definitely, NATO will have a positive role in bringing security not only in Kabul, but also in the country as whole. With the present role of NATO, I am sure that the successes of ISAF 3 will be continued. In the long term, the aim of the Afghan government is to meet the wishes and expectations of its people. By building a national army, professional police forces, an experienced judiciary, God willing approval of the new constitution and moving towards national elections, Afghanistan will be a secure and prosperous country, which will be ruled by law. We sincerely thank all ISAF member countries, particularly those who led ISAF in the past three phases like UK, Germany, Turkey and The Netherlands. We believe that this cooperation and partnership will strengthen the foundation of peace, stability and sustainable security for our country and will have a positive and lasting impact on our region as well.

German Defense Minister Struck: Ladies and gentlemen, as I said in my speech, today is a very important day for Afghanistan and for my country Germany. We had the lead for ISAF 3 but I am happy that NATO will be taking over the ISAF lead. Through NATO we can still work on security in Kabul and at the airport, but we will no longer have the lead function. Later today I will have meetings with President Karzai and Defense Minister Fahim and we will talk about many of the problems in this country, for example the Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Thank you.

Deputy Secretary General NATO: Just a few words today. First, I would like to thank President Karzai for his remarks at the ceremony today and also to thank the participants in this press conference. I believe that ISAF 3 can be very proud of their record. Kabul is a safer place because of ISAF 3. Nevertheless, I want to underline that NATO's assumption of the strategic command, control and coordination of this mission demonstrates the commitment of the alliance members to provide security to the Afghan people. NATO's presence in Kabul will guarantee the continuation of the ISAF mission. Secretary General Robertson and I have every confidence in General Gliemeroth and his deputy. We are sure they will do a great job. On behalf of the Alliance I would like to fully confirm NATO's readiness to work with the Afghan people on the challenges that lie ahead.

Q. German Press Agency: I have a question for the German Defense Minister. First of all, under which mandate will the German PRT operate, under ISAF or Operation Enduring Freedom? Second, when will there be a decision on the German PRT?

A. Minister Struck: I suppose it would be the best way to use ISAF and not Enduring Freedom. I should discuss this with the UN and Mr. Brahimi, but I think this would be the best way. Second, our decision in the government on a German PRT will be at the end of August.

Q. (identification unclear) Today this morning, President Karzai and the other participants commented on how satisfactorily ISAF has contributed to security in Kabul. On the other hand, the UN representative said that the security situation in other parts of the country is not satisfactory. Dr. Abdullah has requested that ISAF expand to at least the other big cities of Afghanistan. This extension seems essential for the Afghan government, but for NATO this seems out of the question. Why is this so? How many men would be needed to expand the ISAF mandate beyond Kabul to cities like Mazar, Jalalabad, Heart, Kandahar?

A. Minister Abdullah: The demand for the extension of ISAF has been the Afghan government's position. But at the same time, at this stage, what we are talking about is the new role that NATO has taken as commander of ISAF. We are sure that this will enhance stability and security throughout the country. This is the main point. With respect to PRTs, we are in discussions with the international community, with different countries about expanding PRTs. Many countries have shown an interest in this. The deployment of the PRTs can advance stability and security in the country.

Q. Kabul Times: As far as the experience of NATO in Kosovo, where NATO has been providing 1 peacekeeper for every 65 Kosovars, while in Afghanistan they are providing 1 peacekeeper for every 5,055 Afghans. Why is it that NATO cannot be expanded to other areas of Afghanistan?

A. Deputy Secretary General NATO: We are only assuming the control of ISAF today. For the time being we are concentrating on the success of this mission. I am not trying to evade your question at all. Certainly the problem you discuss is a legitimate question and it will be discussed in time. The first challenge the Alliance has is to form a proper mission and make it a success.

Q. Daily Telegraph: My question is for Defense Minister Struck. Can you confirm that NATO has plans to expand to Iraq? If so, under what conditions?

A. Minister Struck: I don't talk about Iraq in Afghanistan.

Q. BBC: Question for General Jones. General Jones, what does today say about the change in NATO's strategy?

A. SACEUR Jones: This signifies a number of things. First of all, this is the first global mission in 54 years of the Alliance. It certainly signals to the rest of the world that NATO as an alliance has a will to play in the global community, if you will, to operate in such a mission as this one. It announces, I think, that NATO is both serious and capable of doing what it needs to do and wishes to do in support of the United Nations and other priorities that might come our way. This shows NATO can respond competently, quickly and with a force that is credible. This is a signal moment in the history of the Alliance. I am extremely proud of not only this operation, but all other NATO operations that are going on simultaneously.

Q. BBC: Is this the end then of the real Cold War defensive strategy?

A. SACEUR Jones: I am not sure this is the end of the beginning of anything. What it is is certainly a certain point in time where we are making a clear statement about making a transition from the 20th century defensive, bi-polar world to the 21st century multi-polar world where there is a flexible need for rapid response across a myriad of threats that face us. So, in that sense this is a transition, where it starts and where it ends I don' know. But certainly one can feel the difference.

Q. Reuters: Do you support Minister Struck's opinion that PRTs should be under ISAF control? Second question for Minister Abdullah. Do you think the national elections can be held in June or do you think there will not be enough time?

A. General Gliemeroth: First, let me just stress that I just took over this mission thirty minutes ago. We all are aware how important it will be that the transitional Afghan administration will be in the position to extend security throughout the country. There probably will be various options. You will understand that at this time this is a highly political issue. To put it mildly, this is slightly above my pay grade. We should be very much aware that this should be in intensive interface with the UN, the members of the Alliance, and of course the world community who might join PRTs or who are already running PRTs. I will stick to the task I just got. This is tough enough for the time being.

A. Minister Abdullah: The general elections in 2004 are part of our commitment to the Afghan people as well as to the international community. It is challenge that we are willingly accepting and we consider it very important that we be on time as far as elections are concerned. It's hard work and the Afghan government needs to work together with the international community in order to be on time. That is our hope.

Q: German radio: My question is for Minister Abdullah. In what area would you like to have a German-led PRT? What about Konduz that has been mentioned in the past few days?

A.Minister Abdullah: This is being studied. But I think it is for Germany to decide the nature and place of a PRT.

Q. Amsterdam magazine: My question is for Lt. General Godderij. You mentioned that the Dutch will remain committed to the security of Afghanistan. How are you going to do that when the Dutch contribution to ISAF will shrink from a little over 600 to only 43 in the new command?

A. Lt. General Godderij: Like you noted in your question, we are already committed to a contribution to the new mission and also through development funds.

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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