NATO's outgoing Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen is confident that after the inauguration of the president-elect Ashraf Ghani this month, Kabul will sign security agreements with the United States and NATO.
In an exclusive interview RFE/RL correspondent Mustafa Sarwar, Rasmussen said that despite tremendous challenges, NATO's support has given Afghanistan a strong foundation to build a secure future.
RFE/RL: What does the power-sharing deal reached between the Afghan candidates mean?
Anders Fogh Rasmussen: It means that a peaceful transfer of power has occurred and that a foundation for an inclusive national leadership has been put in place. This was key to ensure the unity and long-term stability of Afghanistan and to encourage the international community to continue its support to Afghanistan after 2014. There have been significant challenges, but both candidates have lived up to their commitment to address them.
This year's elections have been a historic event for Afghanistan. Millions of Afghan men and women have cast their votes. And the Afghan security forces have secured all the aspects of the process. Now the process has been brought to its orderly conclusion. I welcome President-elect [Ashraf] Ghani's and [Abdullah] Abdullah's commitment to work together for the future of Afghanistan. I urge them to take their responsibilities forward in the spirit of genuine political partnership.
RFE/RL: How soon do you think the Status of Forces Agreement will be signed by the new leadership, and when will NATO start its assistance, advising, and training mission in the country?
Rasmussen: The NATO-led noncombat Resolute Support Mission to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces will start on January 1, 2015, as already planned and agreed with the Afghan authorities. We stand ready. We have the operational plans in place. We have also started the process to generate the necessary forces and resources for this new mission.
However, as I have stated already, the mission can only be launched when the required legal framework is in place. So, I look forward to the inauguration of a new president and appointment of a chief executive, and to the conclusion of the necessary security agreements with the United States and NATO as soon as possible. This is what both candidates pledged in their joint message to the NATO summit in Wales on September 4. I expect that we will have both agreements signed in the coming days, after the inauguration of the president-elect.
RFE/RL: To what extent is NATO committed to funding and training the Afghan National Security Forces?
Rasmussen: To the same extent we have already committed ourselves at the NATO summit in Chicago in May 2012. In fact, at the NATO summit in Wales this past September, we reaffirmed that our commitment to Afghanistan will endure after the completion of the [NATO-led International Security Assistance Force] ISAF mission at the end of 2014. We will continue supporting Afghanistan in three ways. Firstly, we will launch the Resolute Support Mission when the required legal framework is in place. Secondly, we have renewed our financial commitments to support the sustainment of the Afghan forces, including to the end of 2017. And thirdly, we will strengthen our political consultations and practical cooperation with Afghanistan within the framework of the already existing enduring partnership between NATO and Afghanistan.
RFE/RL: What lessons has NATO learned from its decade-long mission in Afghanistan?
Rasmussen: Our mission in Afghanistan has been the most complex and demanding engagement in the history of the alliance. We have faced tremendous challenges, but with our support Afghanistan has a strong foundation to build a secure future. Overall, we have learned three main lessons. We have learned the importance of bringing allies and partners closer together in the planning and the conduct of daily, joint operations. After the ISAF mission our military forces are more interoperable than ever. We have understood that the development of the national security forces must be at the forefront of our effort.
As a result of this, today we have roughly 350,000 Afghan security forces on track to assume full security responsibility by the end of 2014. And we have seen that, ultimately, to be an effective security provider we must continue to operate alongside other non-military actors in a broad international effort designed to complement the creation of security with the promotion of socioeconomic development, good governance, and human rights.
RFE/RL: There are reports that groups loyal to the Islamic State militant group have emerged in the central Afghan province of Ghazni. What is NATO's overall strategy to fight such groups and other insurgents in Afghanistan?
Rasmussen: We know full well that significant challenges remain in Afghanistan, including from a security standpoint. That is why with the end of ISAF in December we will not disengage. Rather, our commitment will endure, but with a different nature and scope, because stability in Afghanistan also means security for us. The Afghan security forces have already demonstrated, repeatedly, that they are up to the job.
They have prevented the insurgents from becoming a strategic threat and from achieving their objectives. And they have shown, most importantly in the eyes of Afghans, that they can defend and protect their country. It is now up to them to keep Afghanistan safe. They will not be alone, though. We will continue to support them, with the view to render them sustainable in the long term. And we will do that through a NATO-led non-combat training, advising and assisting mission, and through the provision of financial assistance.