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NATO Secretary General Rasmussen Reacts to President Obama's Speech

Aired December 2, 2009 - 15:00:00   ET



CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, now that U.S. President Obama has unveiled his new strategy for Afghanistan, will the rest of the world, the allies, kick in to help defeat the Taliban? We have an exclusive interview with NATO's secretary general.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Christiane Amanpour, and welcome to the program.

Will President Obama's plan to add 30,000 U.S. troops stem a stubborn Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan? And how much help will he get from his friends? Great Britain will send 500 additional troops, raising its forces to 10,000, by far the largest contingent after the U.S.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Obama's speech "courageous," but didn't mention adding any new troops, although he might dispatch more trainers after a special U.N. conference in January.

And German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that her government would also wait.

Back after 9/11, NATO invoked Article 5. An attack on one member nation is an attack on all. And as you can see on this map, U.S. and British troops are concentrated in the south and in the major areas of conflict, and the rest of NATO forces are spread across the north and the west of Afghanistan.

NATO's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, tells us that he strongly supports President Obama's surge and that he's confident he can get more international troops onboard. He joined me earlier from NATO headquarters in Brussels for an exclusive interview.


AMANPOUR: Secretary General, do you think President Barack Obama's speech was strong enough, focused enough to galvanize NATO allies?

ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN, NATO SECRETARY GENERAL: Yeah, I -- I welcome his strong commitment to our mission in Afghanistan, and I agree with the president that this is an alliance effort, and therefore I urge all allies to follow suit.

AMANPOUR: Let me play you this of what President Obama said last night regarding contribution from the international allies.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because this is an international effort, I've asked that our commitment be joined by contributions from our allies. Some have already provided additional troops, and we're confident that there will be further contributions in the days and weeks ahead.

Our friends have fought and bled and died alongside us in Afghanistan. And now we must come together to end this war successfully, for what's at stake is not simply a test of NATO's credibility. What's at stake is the security of our allies and the common security of the world.


AMANPOUR: So, Secretary General Rasmussen, do you agree and can you assure that there will be support from the allies? He said I'm -- I'm confident there will be strong support.

RASMUSSEN: Yes, I agree with the president, and I share his wish and his hope, and I'm pleased to inform you that, according to our latest figures, at least 20 allies and partners will contribute additional troops to Afghanistan, and I expect more to come in the coming weeks.

AMANPOUR: How many troops are we talking about?

RASMUSSEN: Well, at least 5,000 here and now, and I would expect a few thousand more to be announced in the coming weeks.

AMANPOUR: So what will it take? I mean, for instance, we've seen statements of welcome, for instance, from France, from Germany, from Britain. We know that Britain has pledged another 500, in addition to the 9,000 it has right now. France is saying that it has no plans at the moment to send any more.

Let's take France. Do you believe that they will send any more? And when might they make that decision?

RASMUSSEN: Well, I feel confident that the French will also step up to the plate. Probably, a number of allies and partners will wait for the international conference, which will take place by the end of January, before they announce their concrete troop numbers.

And for me, the most important thing is not the timetable, but the fact that they actually pledge more troops. So I would expect an increased number of troops in Afghanistan from non-U.S. allies during 2010.

AMANPOUR: From non-U.S. allies?


RASMUSSEN: Yes. We already know that President Obama has announced a significant increase in the number of American troops and, as I have told you, I expect more to come from other allies within NATO and the ISAF alliance.

And let me add to this that, during the last three years, the non-U.S. allies have nearly doubled their contribution to our mission in Afghanistan, so it is really an alliance mission, and not just America's war.

AMANPOUR: Well, I was going to ask you, what does NATO need or does it need any more to really think that this is NATO's war, as well?

RASMUSSEN: Yeah, but we have now 43 countries contributing to our operation in Afghanistan, 28 NATO allies -- they are all in it -- plus 15 other partners in the ISAF coalition. So though America, though the United States is really the big contributor, I have to stress that other allies have stepped up to the plate, and I expect them to contribute further in the coming months.

AMANPOUR: Can you give me an idea of which allies? Do you think there will be more troops from Germany, for instance? Chancellor Merkel has indicated not at the moment. They might, she says, extend the mandate of those already there. So can you tell me what you think we might expect from Germany, from Italy, from places like Poland, even non-NATO countries such as Georgia?

RASMUSSEN: Yeah, well, I have traveled a lot, and I have talked with political leaders during the past weeks. And I have a clear impression that a number of allies will contribute additional troops to our mission in Afghanistan, but I will let each individual ally and partner announce their concrete pledges.

But my overall impression is, based on my talks with a big number of political leaders, that we will see a significant increase in the troop contributions from other allies.

AMANPOUR: And do you think that will happen at the London conference? When do you think that the U.S. and Afghanistan will know when more troops are going to be pledged?

RASMUSSEN: Well, I think the first pledges will be announced already this week during a foreign ministers meeting here in Brussels, which will take place Thursday, Friday.

And next week, we have a force generation conference, where the military people will discuss force generation in Afghanistan. I expect more pledges there.

And then, in the coming weeks leading up to and immediately after the international -- the international conference, which will take place in London by the end of January, we will see further pledges and more announcements. So you will see a development over the coming weeks.

AMANPOUR: Mr. Rasmussen, what did you make of President Obama saying that by July 2011 the United States would start to pull back some of the troops?

RASMUSSEN: Well, I -- I think it's quite natural. He has decided to provide troops for a significant surge. And I consider this surge a bridge to the transition to Afghan lead in a number of areas.

We want to see stronger Afghan ownership security-wise and also as far as development is concerned. We need to train and educate Afghan soldiers and Afghan police so that they can take over responsibility for the security themselves, province by province, as their own capacity develops.

And, therefore, we need trainers, educational facilities, equipment for our training mission in Afghanistan. So it's quite natural that we build up, that we decide a surge now as a bridge to this transition to Afghan lead.

AMANPOUR: OK, we're going to talk about this after a quick break. We need to take that right now. But stay with us. We'll have more with the NATO secretary general in just a moment.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): All of Afghan people I think are optimistic about their sending NATO troops, because they bring us more peace and can get better security.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (inaudible) sending more troops, somebody told me that if they send 1,000 -- 100,000 -- 100,000 people more, they will not build a nation. They have to make our own nation. We have to do -- we'll have to protect our land.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I think it would be best to support the Afghan forces rather than bringing more troops to Afghanistan, since Afghan troops can maintain better security in the country.


AMANPOUR: Those were Afghan citizens on the streets of Kabul talking about international forces coming to Afghanistan. And now we're joined again from Brussels by Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the secretary general of NATO.

Mr. Rasmussen, you were talking just before the break about building up Afghan forces. Do you think 18 months from now is a sufficient period of time to do that? Even President Karzai, in his inaugural address, said that it might take some five years to be able to hand over security.

RASMUSSEN: I think we will see significant progress during the coming 12 to 18 months. Of course, it's condition-based process. We have to make sure that the Afghans can really take on responsibility for the security in -- in their own country.

But I fully agree with the Afghans that this is about handing over responsibility to themselves. We have to train and educate their security forces so that they can take a stronger ownership of the development in -- in their own country. So this is what the surge is about, to make this transition possible.

AMANPOUR: Let me just play you something that the commander of CENTCOM, General David Petraeus, has said this morning about the mission.


GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER OF CENTCOM: There's no question that counterterrorist operations are a component of counterinsurgency. And, in fact, those will not only continue; they will be augmented, as well. You have to kill or capture the key leaders, the irreconcilables in such an endeavor. But you also want to provide greater security for the population so that local individuals don't have to choose sides to go with the Taliban because they're so threatened or because it's the only way they can earn a living for their family.


AMANPOUR: So, Mr. Rasmussen, is this a counterterrorist strategy that's being laid out or a counterinsurgency strategy or a bit of both?

RASMUSSEN: It's a bit of both, and I don't see any contradiction between counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgency is a broader approach in which we try to ensure stable institutions in Afghanistan, better governance, better life opportunities for people, with the aim to make the whole society inhospitable for terrorists.

So I don't see any contradiction between counterterrorism and counterinsurgency, on the contrary.


AMANPOUR: What do you think about President Karzai? Obviously, a lot of this depends on a legitimate government, which obviously President Obama called the Karzai administration in his speech last night, but one also that's pledged to crack down on corruption and to improve governance.

What are you doing, if anything, what are NATO allies doing to try to ensure that that happens? And do you have faith that it will happen?

RASMUSSEN: Better governance in Afghanistan is crucial. We have to make sure that the Afghan government strengthens the fight against corruption, step up their endeavors in the fight against a drug trade, that the Afghan government actually delivers basic services to the Afghan people, and in general provides good governance, so that the Afghan people can trust their government. It's absolutely crucial.

And this is also the reason why it's so essential to renew what I would call the contract between the international community and the new Afghan government. And to that end, we are preparing the international conference by the end of January. This conference will be the framework for the renewal of the contract between the international community and the Afghan government. We must hold the Afghan government to account.

AMANPOUR: Do you think NATO troops will take more of a -- of a fighting role in this new strategy the way it's laid out?

RASMUSSEN: In the short term, yes, but with the aim to pave the way for a stronger role for the Afghan security forces. It is really a core element in our strategy to strengthen the capacity of the Afghan army and the Afghan police so that international soldiers can gradually be replaced by well-educated and motivated Afghan soldiers and -- and Afghan police.

This is what the strategy is about. It's transition to Afghan lead. In the short run, yes, we need more international troops to build this bridge to transition. But in the longer run, we will see the Afghan forces play a stronger role, and then the international forces can play a more supporting role.

AMANPOUR: Let me just go back to the troop numbers. Has the Americans -- has President Obama, his representatives, asked NATO for 10,000 troops? Have they tried to get, for instance, 2,500 more from Germany?

RASMUSSEN: Well, actually, the German government has issued quite positive statements, but they have also made it clear that they want to see the outcome of the international conference by the end of January before they are in a position to take new decisions.

AMANPOUR: So basically, nobody is saying any numbers until the end of January, as I hear you, apart from some contributions that may be made in the coming weeks? Is that right?

RASMUSSEN: Well, I think, based on -- on what we know now, it's fair to say that other allies and -- and partners will contribute at least extra 5,000 troops, and I would expect a few thousand on top of that. That's what we know now. The important thing here is that allies and partners have responded very positively to the speech made by President Obama.

AMANPOUR: Do you think -- I'm going to press you -- that you will get to 10,000? You mentioned 5,000 and possibly a few more thousand. Do you think you'll get to 10,000, which is the middle number that General McChrystal's report, the leaked report, suggested he needed?

RASMUSSEN: Well, I think it's -- it's a bit premature to make any estimates of exact troop numbers. But I'm quite confident that we will see a number of significant pledges in -- in the coming weeks.

There is a broad consensus in the alliance that we must stand together, we are in this together, we will support the United States, it is an alliance mission. And based on my talks with a big number of political leaders, I feel confident that we will see significant increases in the troop contributions.


AMANPOUR: So let me just ask you, for instance, about the Netherlands, because they're in Kunduz area right now, and they, by all accounts, have done a pretty good job up there.

They're even riding bicycles around, in terms of trying to really make themselves approachable and form relations with the local people. And the local people are saying that they need them to stay. But apparently, they have a mandate to pull out sometime soon. Do you think you can reverse that and solidify the good works that are being done there by the NATO troops?

RASMUSSEN: We appreciate very much what the Dutch soldiers are doing in -- in Afghanistan. They really make a difference. And I feel confident that the Dutch will stay in Afghanistan one way or -- or the other. But it's quite natural that you have an ongoing discussion in -- in free democracies.

But the point is that, until now, we have seen a united alliance based on solidarity, and I expect that to continue.

AMANPOUR: Do you think that this is possible to get a victory here? There was no talk about victory or success in President Obama's speech last night. Do you think that it is possible to actually end up with a success in Afghanistan?

RASMUSSEN: Yes, indeed. And success is to hand over in a gradual process responsibility to -- to the Afghans themselves. I have repeatedly said that we will stay in Afghanistan as long as it takes to finish our job, but obviously, it's -- it's not forever.

The way forward is to hand over responsibility to the Afghans, province by province, as their own capacity develops. So when people ask me, "When will the mission in Afghanistan end?" Then I have a very clear answer: Our mission in Afghanistan will end when the Afghans are capable to secure, to defend, and to run their own country themselves.

It is as simple as that, but it takes some extra efforts to reach that goal, and this is a reason why I'm strongly in favor of this surge, which will build the bridge to the transition.

AMANPOUR: Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, thank you very much for joining us from Brussels.

RASMUSSEN: You're welcome.

AMANPOUR: And this conversation will continue online at our Web site, We have a special blog, Afghanistan Crossroads, where we look at all angles of the Afghan conflict and we examine how President Obama came to his decision, so please join us there.

And coming up, General McChrystal's name and his wishes have been invoked for months. But coming up, we'll hear from the man himself on the ground in Afghanistan.



AMANPOUR: Now our "Post-Script." The commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, was in Kandahar today addressing Afghan and NATO forces. Now that he'll have 30,000 new U.S. troops to fight the Taliban, he outlined some of his priorities. CNN had exclusive access to his addressed and covered it by a broadband from Kandahar, hence, the grainy quality.


GEN. STANLEY MCCHRYSTAL, COMMANDER, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY ASSISTANCE FORCE, AFGHANISTAN: This will go on for quite a while, but it will be decided, in my view, in the next one to two years. We are going to focus with additional forces in the south. The south is going to be the main effort.

I believe that, by next summer, the uplift of new forces will make a difference on the ground significantly. I believe that, by this time next year, we'll see a level of progress that will convince us that we can clearly articulate the progress and predict the effect -- the effectiveness of our operations. And I believe that, by the summer of 2011, that will be obvious to all the players involved, to the Taliban, to the insurgents. I think it'll be obvious to the Afghan national security forces. It'll be obvious to us. And it will be obvious to the Afghan people in all of those areas, and that's the critical point, so that we can offer them the confidence that we're going to be able to provide that security.


AMANPOUR: The general also said that his troops now have a better understanding of counterinsurgency and know that it's about building up relationships and credibility with the Afghan people that will help win the fight in the end.

And this conversation will continue online our Web site, where we'll have a special Web cast with CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson. So send in your questions for him on our Facebook page,, or you can Tweet your questions using amanpourcnn on Twitter, so please join us there.

And that's it for now. Thanks for watching. We'll be back tomorrow with an in-depth interview with Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff. For all of us here, goodbye from New York.