The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has recorded the longest sustained downward trend in enemy-initiated attacks in Afghanistan since May last year, says Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
"Despite the challenges, we can see progress on the ground," he told a monthly press briefing on Monday. Enemy-initiated attacks in January and February were down by 22 percent compared to the same period last year.
Rasmussen said the Alliance will show at next month's Chicago summit solidarity in supporting Afghanistan through transition, and solidarity in addressing global security challenges with NATO's partners around the world.
He said NATO was on track to complete transition of security responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014 as agreed at the Lisbon summit.
Over the last nine months, Afghan forces have been gradually taking the lead for security in areas where half the Afghan population lives. The NATO chief expects more provinces and districts to follow soon. At the same time, ISAF has gradually started moving into a supporting role. But he made it clear that the forces "remain ready and able to conduct combat operations whenever and wherever needed."
The Afghan security forces are increasingly showing their ability. They are spearheading 28 percent of special operations, 42 percent of conventional operations, and carrying out 85 percent of the training. "This shows transition is achievable, and it is sustainable," Rasmussen said.
The Chicago summit will "map out how we are going to complete the transition, and how we will continue to support Afghanistan beyond 2014. We will agree what kind of mission NATO will have after 2014, and together with Afghanistan's international partners, we will show our commitment to playing our part in funding the future Afghan security forces," Rasmussen said.
The second item on the summit agenda will be the Alliance's capabilities. NATO will adopt a package of new measures through Smart Defense. That will foster multinational cooperation so nations can have access to capabilities they cannot afford on their own.
This defense package will also see a number of multinational projects, each led by one Ally - ranging from pooling maritime patrol aircraft, to joint maintenance of deployed helicopters, to acquiring robots that will keep ISAF soldiers safer from roadside bombs.
Rasmussen said "Chicago will not be the end of our efforts, only the start. We all have much work to do to ensure NATO remains strong and capable by 2020 and beyond." An interim missile defense capability will also be declared in Chicago.
NATO and Russia started an exercise on theater missile defense in a test center in Germany. Although it was a computer exercise - based on a completely fictional scenario, it was a good opportunity to develop, explore and assess various options for conducting missile defense in Europe, according to Rasmussen.
He said a training center for Afghan Army helicopter maintenance, funded by NATO-Russia Council trust fund, would be opened next month. The Russia-based center will help Afghan forces to fly and maintain their helicopter fleet as transition takes hold.
Rasmussen said he was looking forward to a meeting of all 29 Foreign Ministers of the NATO-Russia Council this month. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had already confirmed his participation. "And I am sure that our discussions will be intense, engaging, and fruitful," Rasmussen added.
by RTT Staff Writer
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