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NATO Defense Ministers Agree on Regular Exercises From 2016; Discuss Future Afghan Role

Oct. 23, 2013 - 08:51PM   |  
By JULIAN HALE   |   Comments
Meetings of the Defence Ministers at NATO Headquar
NATO defense ministers meeting here Oct. 21-22 agreed to hold regular major training exercises with a broader scope under what it calls its 'connected forces initiative' beginning in 2016; announced progress with plans for its post-2014 support mission in Afghanistan; and discussed cyberdefense and missile defense. (NATO)
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BRUSSELS — NATO defense ministers meeting here Oct. 21-22 agreed to hold regular major training exercises with a broader scope under what it calls its “connected forces initiative” beginning in 2016; announced progress with plans for its post-2014 support mission in Afghanistan; and discussed cyberdefense and missile defense.

With regard to the connected forces initiative, “there will be more troops, assets and command structures. The idea is to keep up the interoperability between NATO nations built up in Afghanistan so that this does not suffer when the Afghan mission ends. It is also to encourage partner nations to stay involved,” said a NATO official.

“An even more rigorous and systematic approach to our training and exercises is key in reaching our goal of NATO Forces 2020: Modern, tightly connected forces, equipped, trained, exercised and commanded so that they can operate together, and with partners, in any environment,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a press release.

Rasmussen also announced that the alliance will hold a major live exercise in 2015 that will involve numerous deployed forces on land, sea and in the air. Spain, Portugal and Italy offered to host the exercise.

“From 2016 onwards, we will conduct such major live exercises on a regular basis, with a broader scope and covering the full range of alliance missions,” the secretary general said at a press conference. He added, “we have also agreed today to draw up a broader concept for training and exercises up to 2020.

“We have agreed on the key elements of that program. And we have agreed that our experts will now work on it as a matter of priority, ahead of next year’s NATO Summit in the United Kingdom.”

Post-2014 Afghanistan Mission

NATO allies and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) partners discussed with their Afghan counterparts planning for the post-2014 mission to train, advise and assist Afghan Security Forces.

“We have moved closer to putting that mission in place. Our military commanders have reviewed planning and identified in broad terms the key elements we require to set up the mission,” said Rasmussen.

As for planning for the NATO-led post 2014 Resolute Support mission, Rasmussen said work remains to be done, including “agreeing a legal framework with the Afghan government on the status of our forces” and that “our plans will be further developed and closely coordinated with the Afghan government.”

Cyberdefense

On cyberdefense, Rasmussen said the defense ministers concluded NATO is on track in upgrading its “ability to protect NATO’s networks against this fast-evolving threat.” Whilst noting that cyberdefense is a national responsibility, he said, “we all agree that NATO can, and NATO should, play a useful role to facilitate the development of strong national cyberdefense capabilities.”

“For example, by setting out what capabilities nations need. Promoting the ability to work, operate and communicate together through training, education and exercises. Sharing information, intelligence and best practices amongst allies. And by helping nations to come together to develop capabilities in joint projects. This is the way to make sure that every link in the chain of our cyberdefenses is strong.”

Missile defense

Regarding NATO plans to set up a missile defense system to protect allied populations and territories, he announced that “as a next step in our US-led missile defense in Europe, a groundbreaking ceremony for the land-based Aegis system will take place in Romania by the end of October.”

In comments about the NATO-Russia Council meeting, Rasmussen said, “it is no secret that we have not yet found the way to work together” in the area of cooperation on missile defense.

In addition, the NATO-Russia Council conducted a live counterterrorism exercise over the skies of Poland, Russia and Turkey last month involving fighter aircraft, military personnel and command centers from the Arctic to the Black Sea.

“The exercise was a great success. We now have a proven joint capacity to respond to the hijacking of civilian aircraft and we have showed how effective the NATO-Russia Council is in this field,” said the secretary general.

NATO and Russia are also working together to develop technology to detect explosives in public spaces, such as airports, subways and train stations. This year, the council tested the technology under real-world conditions.

Turkish Missile System

Asked about NATO’s reaction to Turkey’s possible purchase of a missile system from the Chinese government, Rasmussen said the topic was not discussed in the meetings of defense ministers, but he added, “our position is very clear: It is a national decision to decide which equipment to purchase.”

However, he said, “seen from a NATO perspective, of course, it is of utmost importance that the systems nations plan to acquire can work and operate together with similar systems in other allied nations. That’s what we call interoperability … And I feel confident that Turkey is aware of this NATO position. I’m also confident that Turkey’s authorities will take that into account before taking the final decision. And I understand that no final decision has been made yet.”

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