Panetta: NATO Ministers Agree Afghan Transition on Track

BRUSSELS, Feb. 2, 2012 — NATO defense min­is­ters meet­ing here all agreed on a clear mes­sage: as the tran­si­tion to Afghan secu­ri­ty lead pro­ceeds, the process “reflects what Lis­bon was all about,” Defense Sec­re­tary Leon E. Panet­ta said today.

Panet­ta was refer­ring to the way for­ward in Afghanistan as agreed upon by Pres­i­dent Barack Oba­ma and NATO’s oth­er heads of state and gov­ern­ment at the alliance’s Novem­ber 2010 sum­mit in Lis­bon, Por­tu­gal.

“As an alliance, obvi­ous­ly, we are all ful­ly com­mit­ted to the Lis­bon frame­work in togeth­er, out togeth­er [and] we’re com­mit­ted to a tran­si­tion to Afghan con­trol,” Panet­ta said. “As the pres­i­dent has said, by 2014 this process of tran­si­tion will be com­plete, and the Afghan peo­ple will be respon­si­ble for their own secu­ri­ty.”

Con­sul­ta­tions are evolv­ing among the NATO and non-NATO nations con­tribut­ing to the Inter­na­tion­al Secu­ri­ty Assis­tance Force effort 50 in all about how best to con­tin­ue trans­fer­ring parts of Afghanistan to Afghan secu­ri­ty force-led oper­a­tions, the sec­re­tary added, with announce­ments of more trans­fers like­ly at the May 20–21 NATO sum­mit in Chica­go.

Afghan Pres­i­dent Hamid Karzai announced in Novem­ber 2009 his wish to see Afghan army and police forces take lead secu­ri­ty respon­si­bil­i­ty across Afghanistan by the end of 2014. The Joint Afghan-NATO Inte­qal [Dari and Pash­tu for “tran­si­tion”] Board, or JANIB, was estab­lished at the July 2010 Kab­ul con­fer­ence to assess dis­tricts and provinces for tran­si­tion.

Afghan and NATO lead­ers agreed to the pro­posed tran­si­tion process in Lis­bon. Karzai announced the first round, or “tranche,” of tran­si­tion areas in March, and the sec­ond in Novem­ber.

The pace of tran­si­tion remains con­di­tions-based, Panet­ta said. “When you’re in war, when you’re in com­bat, every step is con­di­tions-based,” he added.

Offi­cials have stressed since the process was announced that tran­si­tion must be sus­tain­able and irre­versible. The sec­re­tary said yes­ter­day that when the cur­rent, sec­ond tranche is com­plete, more than half of the Afghan peo­ple will live under their nation’s gov­er­nance and secu­ri­ty lead.

“We hope that the [Afghan} forces will be ready to take the com­bat lead in all of Afghanistan some­time in 2013,” Panet­ta said. “Obvi­ous­ly, we will have to con­tin­ue con­sul­ta­tion with our allies and our Afghan part­ners about the best way to accom­plish that goal.”

The sec­re­tary not­ed these dis­cus­sions demon­strate the strat­e­gy is work­ing and progress is hap­pen­ing. Clear­ly, how­ev­er, ISAF forces will remain com­bat-ready and engage in com­bat oper­a­tions as nec­es­sary through­out the tran­si­tion, he said.

As Afghan forces take over oper­a­tional con­trol in more areas — lead­ing patrols, set­ting tac­tics, and iden­ti­fy­ing ene­my tar­gets ISAF troops will be at their side to sup­port and advise them on those efforts, and con­tin­ue to train and build their capa­bil­i­ties, Panet­ta said.

Defense min­is­ters today agreed the coali­tion is “head­ed in the right direc­tion” in Afghanistan, Panet­ta said. Talks will con­tin­ue, he added, on the right lev­el of fund­ing for and size of Afghan forces to sus­tain their nation’s secu­ri­ty long-term.

“There’s much hard fight­ing ahead here,” the sec­re­tary said. “We need to keep the momen­tum up, and we need to keep the ene­my on its heels.”

A strong part­ner­ship with NATO is a pil­lar of U.S. defense strat­e­gy, Panet­ta said. More defense con­sul­ta­tions will take place tomor­row, fram­ing dis­cus­sion for deci­sions to be tak­en at the Chica­go sum­mit, he added.

NATO Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al Anders Fogh Ras­mussen said today Afghanistan is NATO’s top oper­a­tional pri­or­i­ty. After today’s ses­sion, he told reporters, “Tran­si­tion is a road that ISAF and the Afghan forces will walk togeth­er every step of the way.”

Afghanistan is a seri­ous issue for NATO and the entire inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty, Ras­mussen said, “because we all have an inter­est in mak­ing sure Afghanistan is sta­ble and secure.”

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