WASHINGTON, Nov. 3, 2011 — Condemning weekend violence in Afghanistan, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen emphasized today that it won’t undermine the alliance’s commitment to Afghanistan as progress there continues.
Rasmussen, just returned from a historic visit to Tripoli, also praised NATO’s role in liberating Libya. “We did the right thing in the right way, and we achieved the right result,” he said. “I saw that it with my own eyes in Tripoli.”
The secretary general noted continued progress in Afghanistan that he insisted won’t be derailed by desperate attacks by a weakened enemy.
“Spectacular attacks capture the headlines. But they don’t capture more ground,” he said. “They do not allow the enemies of Afghanistan to seize and hold ground. And the bigger picture is different: overall enemy attacks are decreasing, and the enemy has been weakened.”
Enemy attacks dropped 26 percent from July to September this year, compared to the same period last year, he noted. In Helmand province, attacks decreased by 30 percent, and in some districts, by 80 percent, he added.
Meanwhile, NATO’s training mission has passed a new milestone in developing Afghan security forces. “Our target for this October was to have 306,000 Afghan soldiers and police trained, and we did it,” Rasmussen said.
“Transition is on track,” he declared, noting that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is expected to announce shortly the next group of provinces and districts to transfer to the Afghan security lead. “A quarter of the Afghan population already has day-to-day security provided by Afghan forces,” he said. “And I expect the next group to be equally significant.”
Rasmussen cited other signs of progress in Afghanistan: a growing economy, more paved roads that promote trade, improved education programs and an increasing role for women, among them.
Acknowledging that “much hard work lies ahead” while transition proceeds, he called engagement with Afghanistan’s neighbors critical.
Yesterday’s meeting in Istanbul, where more than a dozen countries from the region agreed not to interfere in Afghanistan’s affairs represented an important part of that process, he said. Under the Istanbul Protocol, these nations pledged to protect Afghanistan’s sovereignty and to cooperate in dismantling terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens.
Turning his attention to Libya, Rasmussen praised the accomplishments of Operation Unified Protector.
He became the first NATO secretary general to visit Libya, marking the end of NATO’s mission there at midnight Oct. 31, exactly seven months after it began.
“NATO’s mission is over, and the new Libya has been born,” he said.
“I am proud of what we achieved,” the secretary general said. “We called our operation Unified Protector, and that is what we did: we unified the international military response in support of a historic United Nations resolution, and we protected the people of Libya.”
Rasmussen said many of the Libyans he met thanked him personally for NATO’s assistance. “NATO is in the heart of the Libyan people,” he said Mustafa Abdul Jalil, chairman of Libya’s National Transitional Council, told him.
Paying tribute to the courage and determination of the Libyan people who fought for and won their freedom, Rasmussen said it will now be up to them to shape a true democracy and move their country forward.
“Freedom comes with responsibilities,” he said he reminded the Libyans. “And the National Transitional Council has an immense responsibility, to the Libyan people and to history.”
The United Nations Security Council made clear this week that the new Libya must be based on respect for human rights, the rule of law, justice, reconciliation and inclusion, he noted.
In addition, Rasmussen called on Libya to play a responsible role in the region that includes working with neighbor states to stop the spread of arms through North Africa.
“As the Security Council stressed, the National Transitional Council must do whatever it takes to bring the situation under control,” he said.
As the NTC deals with these and other challenges, Rasmussen stressed that “Libya is not alone.” It can call on the international community for support, if needed, he said, and on NATO, which stands ready to help with defense and security reforms, if asked.
“Despite all the challenges, this is a time of optimism,” Rasmussen said, with the Libyan people now holding their country in their own hands.
“They have the chance to make the future better than the past,” he said. “And, as I saw in Tripoli this week — that is what they are determined to do.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)