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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