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SACEUR  /  Speeches & Transcripts  /  SACEUR media engagement at NATO Defense Ministerials

SACEUR media engagement at NATO Defense Ministerials

SACEUR: First of all, just an opening statement and we will go from there.  I appreciate you coming today.  And I will give you a little bit of the discussions that might take place in the Defense Ministerials. 

As you are aware, NATO is adapting its command structure to meet today’s evolving challenges.  Our military proposals are centered on supporting all Allies, all the time, all three core Alliance tasks in a 21st century context. That's what it’s structured to address. 

The Alliance is confronted with threats and challenges from multiple directions. NATO is charged to be READY and RESPONSIVE . . . And to protect our members, we need to modernize and to respond quickly to short notice requirements to reinforce our Allies – across land, sea, cyber and air domains.

I expect the Defense Ministers will agree to improve the pool of national high-readiness forces that can be made available to NATO at short notice... before or during a crisis.

We will also discuss the Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan where NATO Defence Ministers will share views on our continued commitment to Afghanistan’s lasting security.

What I am seeing are Allies and partners stepping up their commitments to Afghanistan – with both forces and funding. I welcome the announcements regarding support from UAE and Qatar and look forward to developing the details of that support. 

NATO is adding approximately 3,000 more troops to our mission.

I do want to highlight the work of the Afghan Forces.  The Afghan forces are performing with professionalism and courage, across the country. They continue to deny the insurgents their strategic goals and to develop their combat capabilities, notably their Special Operations Forces and the Air Force; and they are creating the conditions for a political settlement.

NATO exercises as well, such as Trident Juncture 2018, are an important element of the Alliance’s readiness and continued adaptation to new security challenges. Exercises ensure our troops are able to respond to threats from any direction and demonstrate that the Alliance stands ready to defend all Allies and is committed to protecting our shared values.

We must remain committed to this Alliance—the greatest Alliance in history.  We must be united in our collective resolve as we look to the present and future challenges and how we will meet them.  And we must be dedicated to preserving a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace. 

With that, I will take your questions.

Q1. Bob Burns with AP.  Quick question about today's development in Afghanistan - the ceasefire that was announced.  I am wondering what you make of it and how much significance you put behind it. What does it suggest to you?

SACEURWell, I welcome it first of all.  We obviously will honor Ghani's request as well.  Of course, NATO does not provide combat troops, we are not a part of that.  We are Train Advise and Assist but we'll do our part to help that move along.  I think, you know, this is a path toward stability and resolution in Afghanistan.  So I welcome it and encouraged to see it occur and we will see how this goes.


Q2.  You do provide air power of course.

SACEUR.  But we don't, I'm speaking from SACUER's position, we provide Advisors - Train, Advise and Assist, so from that perspective, we are not a part of any combat action there but we provide, you know Advice and Assistance to the Afghan forces that will actually have to take Ghani's orders and put the ceasefire into place.


Q3. Where you aware that he was going to do this?

SACEUR.  Shortly before it I knew that there was some discussion about potentially doing something having to do with reconciliation or something but it was very short and it as Ghani's development.  It was the President's decision.


Q4.  Do you think this is an isolated, sort of, ceasefire or is this going to (inaudible) on? 

SACEUR.  I do not want to speculate on that. I mean we do not know so that first time we done this. Right?  And we will see how it goes.


Q5.  On a separate note, you have obviously met with your NATO counterparts quite a bit over the past few weeks, passed view days.  What's been their reaction to the tariffs?  Have they brought it up?  Are they angry?  Because publically they've been quite unhappy with it.

SACEUR.  No, and I prefer not to get into that.  It’s really a policy level decision, etc.  The only think I would say is let’s talk broader than that.  There are differences here, tariffs may be one driving at a political level.  We continue to have a very good defense relationship, mil to mil relationship, and you know, this Alliance has had diversions of opinion over the years.  It’s actually one of the strengths of the alliance is that we can have a difference of opinion.  We will work our way through that.  And I am confident we will work our way through this period as well.


Q6.  Quick question on troop numbers.  You mentioned 3,000 that were part of, sort of tied to the South Asia Strategy - that's going through SHAPE right now. As far as the discussions this week, is there going to be any consideration potentially given to additional numbers, above that 3,000?

SACEUR.  Well what we will do, I expect, and I will, certainly in my portion, encourage more contributions as countries can do it.  It will be helpful to the commander to execute his tasks. The response of the nations has been very good, we still have some shortfalls and I would like to see us completely fill out his request.


Q7.  What were the short falls last time?

SACEUR.  Its broad but we still have a need for advisors in terms of Advice to Afghan Forces and Police.  And some of the schools that the Afghans run where we would like. Those are the priorities, really, to fill.


Q8.  You spoke about creating the condition for political resolution.  Do you have any, are you optimistic about the chances that the Taliban could enter negotiations and talks.  Is it something that is wishful thinking or is it really happening.  

SACEUR.  I don't think it is wishful thinking.  I think the Taliban is under pressure now.  They have not reached their objectives last fighting season nor have they made progress in the stated goals this fighting season thus far.  They are under greater pressure and you see some splintering of their leadership and their cohesion. They now know, as well, that we have a plan that is in place in support of President Ghani's and the Afghans plan.  And they know that we are in it for a longer term. That we're here until we reach the security conditions - that's the difference.  And I think that's all helpful in putting pressure on the Taliban and convincing them that there is not a military solution to this, they need to come to the table and resolve this through reconciliation. 


Q9. If they are splintering, then what does that do for the chances they would agree to a ceasefire? 

SACEUR.  Well, what I mean by that is we have some indications that there are those that are willing to talk.  In the past the Taliban has been cohesive and one voice about this.  We are seeing indications there are those who would like to talk so that's encouraging to me.  That's why I don't think it is wishful thinking. 


Q10.  Won't they be split about a ceasefire, correct?

SACEUR.  There'd be differences of opinion within the Taliban perhaps but I don't think that's unexpected but I think we can, there's potential here.


Q11.  That's happened before right?  Years past they've some of them (inaudible / crosstalk)

SACEUR.  A few.  I've dealt with this for quite a number of years. Personally I sense a different set of conditions today and perhaps more potential for this.


Q12.  Sir, when you were talking earlier about NATO readiness and the command structure.  Can you talk about, it may be familiar to the folks here, but to the extent that that's motivated by Russia's actions in the last several years.  How much of that is in response, or in anticipation of Russian actions?

SACEUR.  What I will tell you upfront is this, and it’s the point that I really want to make about it first and that is that the NATO Command Structure that we proposed - that adaptation - is based on all the challenges that Euro-Atlantic faces.  It’s not simply focused on Russia.  It’s focused on giving us a NATO Command Structure that is relevant in the environment today and what we expect in the future.  The changes in things like information and cyber.  The changes in technology. So that's broader - that's 360.  Now there's definitely a portion of that has to be Russia that's set on establishing themselves as a global power again, who are pressing on the international norms that's kept the peace for the past 70 years.  Whose violated those norms, in fact in Ukraine, in the annexation of Crimea so we can't, you know, we obviously have that as a part of that but it’s not the majority of that reason or the reasons that we've established the NATO Command Structure the way we did.  Final thing on that is, is that most of what you see us build into this when you finally lay this out and we get approval for it, you will see there are things, much of it is responsive to violent extremism, transnational threats as well as Russia and challenges that they present to us. And so it’s actually structured that way.


Q13.  General, quick question going back to Afghanistan.  You talked about these elements that are sort of amenable to discussion towards peace talks.  Do those elements include actions of the Haqqani network?  Because Kabul doesn't really seem to differentiate between those two groups.  And it seems the ceasefire also applies to the Haqqani network.

SACEUR.  I am not going to get into that level of detail with you. I am just not prepared to do that to be frank with you.


Q14.  Sir, President Ghani recently said that if US were to pull out then (inaudible) would collapse in 6 months. He also said it might take generations to secure Afghanistan. When people hear that back home, I know you cannot give me a timeline, but are we getting any closer to exit?  What is your feeling about that?

SACEUR.  So I don't, who did you say made that comment? (Cross talk:  President Ghani)

SACEUR.  I don't know.  I have not heard him say that before.  In terms of, this is not a short fight, it is probably a longer one.  But think back about where we have been.  I take us back to where we've been, you know, we've built, and the Afghans who have built it, are now fighting, an Army and Police force.  And they have done that during a fight with our help, with us fighting first and now us just advising.  We had a goal we thought would probably take us to about 2014 to do that.  That's about the time we did it.  You don't execute a fight like this and build a security apparatus simultaneous quickly.  They have to develop the leadership, the schools to promote that, all the things that support it.  So it is going to take some time yet.  But I think it is absolutely essential that we do so. Because we also need to remember why we are there - and that's so we don't have an Afghanistan that once again is unstable and a safe haven for violent extremists who then plan and execute attacks on our countries from there.  And it is worth our efforts here to see it through.  I am confident we can see this through.

Q15.  If I could if no one has one, if I could just go back - you talk about Russia as a rising power and I realize you’re saying the structure is not related strictly to that but I think for folks who are not versed in defense necessary, foreign policy, just average person going about their business they might think about Russia as the Cold War enemy from decade and decades ago.  I know this has been building for some time but how would you explain to folks, you know, just regular people that Russia has returned to become a threat to be watched?

SACEUR.   Okay, so first of all.  Look at their actions in Georgia, presence in a sovereign country today with their forces without invitation, there actions in the Donbass today, their annexation of Crimea. I mean those are all violations of international norms.


Q16.  How did they return to that level of strength?

SACEUR. Well they set out with a focus of rebuilding their military capability.  And, you know, in an autocracy with one person making decisions about an economy, they can chose to do that and they have stayed on track. So the second thing is then look at how they spent their defense dollars and, you know, they have been modernizing their force. There is no question about that.  Back in 2010, last time we did a revision of the NATO Command Structure, we brought the numbers down but we did so thinking that Russia was actually a partner.  We did so at a time when we thought and we were certain that we were stronger in every domain, fighting domain.  We believed we had the best technology and we did.  And we thought that any conflict would be slow to develop.  None of those things are true today.  Those assumptions have changed.  Russia, in particular, has developed,  they are challenging us in some of those domains and will by 2024 - 2025 if we don't continue to invest.  And that's the importance of the invest within NATO and the US.  So that we continue to outpace that and maintain our strength by domain and by certain technologies. 

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