NATO Ministers to Discuss Afghanistan, Libya

BRUSSELS, Bel­gium, March 9, 2011 — Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates arrived here today to meet with his fel­low NATO defense min­is­ters about the secu­ri­ty tran­si­tion in Afghanistan and the sit­u­a­tion in the Mid­dle East.
NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al Anders Fogh Ras­mussen said in a March 7 news con­fer­ence that the sit­u­a­tion in Libya will be at the top of the agen­da for this week’s meet­ings.

“The whole world is watch­ing events in Libya and the wider Mid­dle East,” Ras­mussen said. “This is a human­i­tar­i­an cri­sis on our doorstep that con­cerns us all. The civil­ian pop­u­la­tion in Libya is the tar­get of sys­tem­at­ic attacks by the regime, so we must remain vigilant.” 

NATO strong­ly con­demns the use of force against the Libyan peo­ple, Ras­mussen said, call­ing human rights vio­la­tions under ruler Moam­mar Gad­hafi “out­ra­geous … crimes against humanity.” 

Gates left Afghanistan this morn­ing after a two-day vis­it, stop­ping en route in Stuttgart, Ger­many, for a cer­e­mo­ny trans­fer­ring lead­er­ship of U.S. Africa Com­mand from Army Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward to Army Gen. Carter F. Ham. 

In a joint news con­fer­ence with Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai dur­ing his vis­it to Afghanistan, Gates not­ed progress toward trans­fer­ring secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty to Afghan forces. 

“We are now clos­er than ever to Pres­i­dent Karzai’s goal of build­ing Afghan nation­al secu­ri­ty forces that can take the lead in their nation’s secu­ri­ty,” the sec­re­tary said. 

The NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force “will be well-posi­tioned to begin draw­ing down some U.S. and coali­tion forces this July, even if we rede­ploy oth­ers to dif­fer­ent areas of the coun­try,” Gates added. 

Ras­mussen said Afghanistan will be a key focus when the alliance’s defense min­is­ters meet here this week. 

“We have invit­ed [Afghan Defense Min­is­ter Abdul Rahim War­dak] and all ISAF part­ners to dis­cuss the rec­om­men­da­tion of the Joint NATO Afghan Tran­si­tion Board regard­ing the first tranche of provinces and dis­tricts to be trans­ferred to Afghan secu­ri­ty lead,” Ras­mussen said. “Pres­i­dent Karzai will make the announce­ment on March 21, mark­ing Afghan New Year.” 

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

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