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NATO Defense Chiefs Meet to Discuss Afghanistan, More

By Jim Garamone
BRUSSELS, — The transition in Afghanistan, the post-2014 NATO mission in the country and the alliance’s transformation in the face of economic hardships were on the docket as NATO’s Military Committee began deliberations here today. 

Danish Army Gen. Knud Bartels, the committee’s chairman, listed these and other challenges confronting the alliance. All the chiefs of defense -- including Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, attended. It is the second chiefs of defense meeting this year. 

Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, NATO’s new supreme allied commander for operations, also participated in the meeting. 

Afghanistan remains the focus of the alliance, and Bartels noted the critical nature of the remaining time in the country. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force will stand down at the end of 2014 and be replaced by a NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces. 

Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the NATO ISAF commander, spoke to the chiefs of defense about planning for the post-2014 NATO mission. In January, the chiefs gave guidance on the planning for the post-2014 “Resolute Support” mission. 

Bartels was upbeat about progress the Afghan security forces have made under NATO tutelage. The Afghan army and police forces are 350,000 strong, and these forces are transitioning into the lead for security in the nation, he said. These forces are maturing and certainly have the potential to provide protection for the nation, he added. 

NATO is even now transitioning to an advise and assist role, the general noted, and he urged members of the alliance to not waste any of the time left before the end of the ISAF mission. 

“On Afghanistan, I believe we should seek to provide clear military guidance on the conduct of the remaining 19 months of the ISAF mission and unambiguous recommendations for the planning for the Resolute Support mission, both of which must reflect the importance of maintaining the confidence of the Afghan population and the tempo of transition during this critical period,” Bartels said. 

When the chiefs last met in January, they noted the convergent challenges associated with austerity, emerging security risks and the requirement for a shift in NATO’s operational focus, the Danish general said. 

The continuing global economic slowdown has forced some alliance nations to further reduce defense spending. This occurs even as events in the world show that there are growing threats that will require a strong defense, he said. These threats include cyber war, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, civil wars and conflicts between states, Bartels said. 

The alliance, he said, must continue work to develop agile, adaptable and affordable military capabilities. 

Other NATO priorities include working with Georgia, Russia and Ukraine to deliver progress on the alliance commitment “to continue to build upon our common interests of regional security and shared understanding,” Bartels said. 

The chiefs also will look at the NATO mission in Kosovo to assess the implications of the recent agreement between Kosovo and Serbia. 

NATO transformation remains important, and the alliance must move from discussions to practice, Bartels said. He called for specific high-visibility exercises to test the command and control structure of NATO forces. 

Bartels welcomed a spirited debate on these issues and more. But in the long run, the NATO military leaders share the same concerns and issues, he said. 

“We are committed to ensuring that the NATO military structures and capabilities are fit for purpose and matched to NATO’s core tasks of collective defense, crisis management and cooperative security,” he said.