The Slovenia Times

NATO Chief: Afghan Withdrawal on Track, Sights on Formalising Training Mission



"We are on track, we follow the plan we have outlined, which means we will complete our ISAF combat mission by 2014," Rasmussen said in an interview with the STA as part of his visit to Ljubljana on Friday.

He said plans were under way for establishing a training mission as a successor to ISAF. "This will be a very different mission, a non-combat mission, as part of which we will be training, advising, assisting Afghan security forces."

NATO is hoping that the training mission will be formalised in the near future with a security agreement with the Afghan government. "It is a prerequisite that the security agreement forms the legal basis for our presence after 2014."

He expects that the agreement will be signed, given that the Loya Jirga tribal council urged in November President Hamid Karzai to sign a deal on international present after 2014. "Without a security agreement we cannot stay after 2014."

He indicated that the agreement was crucial not only for carrying out the training mission but also for the future of the Afghan security forces and development support.

"I'm concerned that if we are not present on the ground with trainers and troops, it may be difficult to generate financial support for the Afghan security forces so it will be very difficult for Afghans to finance a security force of the size of 350,000."

Moreover, the security agreement would also be important for Afghanistan being able to continue to raise development assistance. "So a lot is at stake and I think the Afghans know that, which is why I'm confident that we will get the signature."

Meanwhile, Rasmussen again ruled out any possibility for a military solution to the conflict in Syria. "There is also no request for an international military operation because everyone realises that you cannot solve the problems in Syria through military intervention."

He believes the only way forward for Syria is a political solution which would allow for a transition process that would lead to power sharing between the opposing factions.

"This will be difficult, I would even call it uphill. But I hope all parties - the government as well as the opposition - realise that this is the only solution."

Asked about Slovenia's declining defence budget, which at 1.1% of GDP has fallen to just over half of what Slovenia had pledged to spend, Rasmussen reiterated that NATO understands that it will take time for the country to reverse the trend caused by the economic crisis.

Saying that there is no deadline for Slovenia to begin increasing the budget, since this is a national decision, he assessed that this could happen once the economy begins to pick up.

"Today I discussed with members of parliament that one possibility would be to reach a broad agreement within parliament to gradually increase defence investments in the coming years, in particular when the economy recovers."

But more than just the bare amount of spending, Rasmussen highlighted that the main priority should be to alter the structure of the budget so that "more resources are devoted to investments in...modern military capabilities".

Asked about revelations of secret US electronic surveillance programmes made by former contractor of the US National Security Agency Edward Snowden, Rasmussen said that this was not an issue at NATO level.

He downplayed allegations of spying among allies and stressed that the alliance was focusing on providing for an effective exchange of information and intelligence aimed at tackling terrorist threats.

Rasmussen, whose term as NATO secretary general runs out after the NATO summit in Wales in September, also brushed off recent speculation in the European press about him being a candidate to succeed current European Council President Herman Van Rompuy.

"Actually, I have not started thinking about life after 30 September 2014. Right now, I'm focusing on NATO and on preparing a successful summit."


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