Europe Remains Committed to Afghan Mission, Commander Says

WASHINGTON, March 1, 2012 — Euro­pean coun­tries strong­ly sup­port con­tin­u­ing with the mis­sion in Afghanistan despite vio­lent upris­ings there, and NATO is like­ly to con­tin­ue its part­ner­ship with Afghanistan well past the end of com­bat oper­a­tions, the alliance’s supreme allied com­man­der for Europe said here.

Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, who also is com­man­der of U.S. Euro­pean Com­mand, addressed Afghanistan and NATO and U.S.-European part­ner­ships dur­ing tes­ti­mo­ny today before the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee and yes­ter­day before the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee.

The admi­ral said he sees no rea­son to change the strat­e­gy in Afghanistan of tran­si­tion­ing secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty to Afghan forces in response to vio­lent upris­ings that began there last week after it was learned that some U.S. forces had inad­ver­tent­ly burned copies of the Quran.

“As I look at the broad sweep of our strat­e­gy there, I am con­vinced that we should con­tin­ue with tran­si­tion­ing Afghanistan’s secu­ri­ty to the Afghans,” Stavridis said. “In my con­ver­sa­tions – I’ve had many over last week or so with senior lead­ers in the alliance – there’s sol­id sup­port on the Euro­pean side to con­tin­ue with cur­rent strat­e­gy.”

Stavridis not­ed that about 150 demon­stra­tions had left 30 peo­ple killed and 150 wound­ed. “That’s sig­nif­i­cant activ­i­ty, but it’s been very much dif­fused around the coun­try,” he said, adding that Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen, com­man­der of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has said he is pleased with Afghan secu­ri­ty forces’ abil­i­ty to con­tain the vio­lence.

“If you step back and look at the larg­er pro­gres­sion in Afghanistan, I remain cau­tious­ly opti­mistic that we can suc­ceed there,” the admi­ral said. Two years ago, when U.S. and British Marines moved into Mar­jah, there were 10 coali­tion troops to every Afghan sol­dier. Today, there are two Afghan sol­diers for every coali­tion mem­ber, he said.

Stavridis said he expects Allen will lay out a “defin­i­tive track” in mid-sum­mer for the draw­down of coali­tion forces. “It has to be con­di­tions-based as we go for­ward,” he said.

NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al Anders Fogh Ras­mussen has a “high-lev­el goal” of sign­ing a long-term strate­gic part­ner­ship agree­ment with Afghanistan, show­ing NATO’s “strong will­ing­ness to go for­ward,” Stavridis said. “I think we will see an endur­ing rela­tion­ship between NATO and the Repub­lic of Afghanistan,” he added.

Stavridis told the Sen­a­tors he will pro­vide them with a clas­si­fied report on the recent vio­lence in Afghanistan, and in response to a ques­tion, said the upris­ings appear to be a com­bi­na­tion of spon­ta­neous demon­stra­tions and Tal­iban-dri­ven activ­i­ty.

The admi­ral also spoke about the impor­tance of U.S.-European part­ner­ships, not­ing that Euro­pean coun­tries have 40,000 troops in Afghanistan and lead oper­a­tions in the Balka­ns. Speak­ing to the need for a con­tin­ued U.S. pres­ence in Europe, he said, “It does mat­ter that we con­tin­ue to have Europe as our part­ner of first resort.”

How­ev­er, he said, he repeat­ed­ly has urged Euro­pean nations to spend more on defense capa­bil­i­ties. The Unit­ed States spends about 4.5 per­cent of its gross domes­tic prod­uct on defense, he said, and mem­bers of the Euro­pean Union have pledged to spend 2 per­cent of each of theirs, but only some are meet­ing that goal, with most spend­ing only about 1.5 per­cent of GDP on defense, he said.

“They should spend more, and if they would spend more, it would per­mit the Unit­ed States to spend less,” Stavridis said. “I think the Unit­ed States should press this very hard.”

Also at the hear­ings, the gen­er­al gave his assess­ment of NATO’s capa­bil­i­ties in cyber defense. “We are in the process of catch­ing up,” he said. “We have hard work to do in cyber.”

NATO’s progress on cyber is evi­dent at the recent­ly cre­at­ed Cyber Cen­ter of Excel­lence in Esto­nia, and in a com­put­er response cen­ter being added in the NATO head­quar­ters build­ing in Brus­sels, the admi­ral said. Esto­nia, Latvia, Lithua­nia and Geor­gia have had “fair­ly severe” cyber attacks in recent years, he not­ed.

Cyber defense was includ­ed in the 2010 NATO Strate­gic Con­cept, and Stavridis said he expects it to be dis­cussed at the upcom­ing sum­mit.

Euro­pean gov­ern­ments strug­gle with pub­lic-pri­vate coop­er­a­tion on cyber defense just as Amer­i­cans do, he said. “We have more think­ing and talk­ing to do with­in the U.S. mil­i­tary struc­ture as to the pre­cise author­i­ties and struc­tures” in U.S. Cyber Com­mand.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)