BRUSSELS, (April 18, 2012) — Meetings today provided a clear sense of NATO’s ongoing commitment to the security mission in Afghanistan up to and beyond 2014, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said at NATO headquarters here today.
The two leaders are attending a gathering of the alliance’s defense and foreign ministers. Clinton will remain for more meetings tomorrow; Panetta will return to the United States after defense-focused meetings end today.
“We had a very good series of meetings today,” Panetta said during a news conference with Clinton. “Much of our discussion focused on our shared effort in Afghanistan. What came out of these meetings was a strong commitment to sticking to the plan and the strategy that’s been rolled out by General [John R.] Allen,” International Security Assistance Force commander.
“Allies and partners have a very clear vision and a very clear message: Our strategy is right, our strategy is working, and if we stick to it, we can achieve the mission of establishing an Afghanistan that can secure and govern itself, and never again become a safe haven for terrorists,” Panetta said.
NATO is committed to that goal, he said, and the alliance’s determination can withstand the challenges of war in Afghanistan. “We saw some of those challenges over this last weekend. … There will be losses, there will be casualties, there will be incidents of the kind we have seen in the last few days,” he said, referring to coordinated attacks April 15 in and around the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Afghan forces’ response to the attacks in Kabul demonstrates that they have learned to do what NATO forces have trained them to do, Panetta said. “They responded quickly, professionally and with great courage, rendering ineffective those largely symbolic attacks,” he added.
Panetta noted that Allen has said history proves insurgencies ultimately are defeated not by foreign troops, but by indigenous security forces.
Afghan forces know the ground, the culture and “the neighborhood,” he added. “When the Afghans win, we win,” he said.
Clinton said the United States is grateful for “the solidarity and steadfastness of our NATO and ISAF partners.”
U.S. and NATO officials note the gathering is the final preparation session for the NATO summit set for next month in Chicago. NATO summits are not regularly scheduled meetings, but occur when the alliance has important issues to resolve.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said today one central item of business for the Chicago summit will be determining NATO’s support to Afghan forces after they assume security responsibility for their nation by the end of 2014.
That timeline was agreed at the last NATO summit, which took place in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2010. The other main issue for the Chicago summit, Rasmussen said, involves shaping NATO future capabilities.