NATO to Build on Lessons of Afghanistan for Future

WASHINGTON, June 2, 2011 — A week after NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al Anders Fogh Ras­mussen made a first­hand assess­ment of progress in trans­fer­ring increased secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty to Afghan secu­ri­ty forces, the alliance’s supreme allied com­man­der for trans­for­ma­tion is focused on build­ing on lessons learned in Afghanistan for the future.

Ras­mussen vis­it­ed Afghanistan last week to reaf­firm NATO’s long-term com­mit­ment as sev­en sec­tions of the coun­try, includ­ing the city of Her­at in west­ern Afghanistan, pre­pare to tran­si­tion to Afghan secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty July 1. Speak­ing dur­ing an online video blog, Ras­mussen called the city “an exam­ple of how Afghanistan can start progress toward Afghan lead­er­ship.”

Laud­ing progress made dur­ing meet­ings that includ­ed Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force Com­man­der Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and Senior Civil­ian Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Afghanistan Simon Gass, Ras­mussen made clear dur­ing a news con­fer­ence with Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai that NATO won’t turn its back on Afghanistan.

“Those who threat­en Afghanistan’s future should be under no illu­sion,” he said. “NATO is and remains com­mit­ted to Afghanistan.”

Mean­while, oper­at­ing at the only U.S.-based NATO com­mand, in Nor­folk, Va., French air force Gen. Stephane Abr­i­al, NATO’s supreme allied com­man­der for trans­for­ma­tion, empha­sized the impor­tance of build­ing on lessons learned by the NATO-led Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force.

“My hope is that we do not lose the lessons we have iden­ti­fied and learned in Afghanistan,” he said. “We need to keep them to pre­pare the troops for the future, and also to con­tin­ue devel­op­ing the know-how [and] the capa­bil­i­ties we need for this type of war­fare.”

But Abr­i­al empha­sized that NATO forces can’t con­cen­trate only on those lessons, think­ing that “the last war we have fought is the same as the future war we are going to be fac­ing.” “We need to keep an open mind,” he said, keep­ing pre­pared to address the full spec­trum of chal­lenges from con­ven­tion­al to non­con­ven­tion­al war­fare. That con­cept needs to guide the way the alliance pre­pares, orga­nizes and equips for the future, he said.

“We need … to make sure that for the future, we can be ready for any­thing,” Abr­i­al con­tin­ued. “Who knows what is going to hap­pen tomor­row? … Will there be anoth­er cri­sis some­where else? Will we be asked to inter­vene some­where, and in which form, which fash­ion?”

What applied to Afghanistan may not apply else­where, he warned.

“We can­not say, ‘OK, what­ev­er hap­pens, we will do a new Afghanistan again. No way,” Abr­i­al said. “So don’t for­get the impor­tant lessons – but don’t con­cen­trate [only] on this type of envi­ron­ment.”

Abr­i­al called the flex­i­bil­i­ty pro­vid­ed by NATO’s new strate­gic con­cept key to ensur­ing the alliance remains rel­e­vant as it faces the future.

“To make sure that we can face any kind of chal­lenge that will arise in the next 10 years, flex­i­bil­i­ty is absolute­ly para­mount,” he said. “We have to make sure the con­cept will not be made obso­lete when we encounter the first strate­gic sur­prise. And if you look at his­to­ry, mil­i­tary his­to­ry is just a string of strate­gic sur­pris­es.”

Sur­pris­es in the future are cer­tain, Abr­i­al assert­ed. “The chal­lenge is that we can face the sur­prise, and be ready to solve the cri­sis we will face,” he added.

Abr­i­al shared Rasmussen’s com­mit­ment to see­ing the mis­sion through in Afghanistan, call­ing it a demon­stra­tion of NATO’s uni­ty. As the secu­ri­ty tran­si­tion takes place there, Abr­i­al said, he believes the forces freed up could be rein­vest­ed some­where else, pos­si­bly as train­ers.

“So my vision is that NATO is on the right track, and that the nations will con­tin­ue to … make this tran­si­tion pos­si­ble, togeth­er,” he said.

(This is the third arti­cle in a series about how the Defense Depart­ment and the mil­i­tary ser­vices, as well as NATO, plan to main­tain com­bat effec­tive­ness and readi­ness as the cur­rent oper­a­tional tem­po begins to decline.)

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

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