Interview with General Philip Breedlove Supreme Allied Command Europe.
(General Philip M. Breedlove assumed duties as Supreme Allied Commander, Europe and Commander of U.S. European Command in May 2013.)
How do you think the Afghan security forces have performed over the past year (2013)?
I think they've done wonderfully in fact I think the Afghan people have a lot of reasons to be very proud of their force and have a lot of confidence in their force. I think that we certainly as military commanders are very happy with their performance and we're taking a lot of pride and confidence in what they're doing. I think they are exceeding expectations in developing their own capacities and abilities. I think their leaders are showing great battlefield sense and doing a great job of leading their troops.
There are still some challenges to capacities where we will be working with them, helping them to develop those capacities but in the past year probably one of the things that is most impressive that we have seen is that the Afghan leaders and their troops, their forces, have put together so pretty complex joint operations that incorporate all of the complexities of the battlefield and bring them to great effect, and they are, in these operations, less and less dependent on us providing things like casualty evacuations, airlifts etc etc so these developing capabilities in the ANSF are being shown very well on the battlefield by the commanders. In one of the operations literally six months ago, and they've got better since, inserting over 250 troops via their own airlift, putting forward over 6000kg of supplies to keep those troops available and re-supplied and in the field so I think it's an amazing feat to think of where this force was just ten years ago, so a very, very capable force.
Some wrap ups, some thoughts; 1200 operations during this fighting season, the Afghan police in special units over 800 operations, their air force conducting over 900 casualty evacuations - these are things we really probably would not have thought of two or three years ago so..very very happy with their capabilities.
Your 99 percent there let's say..the Afghans are very much in the lead as you've just pointed out, if they need help in the coming years for that extra one percent - and one can understand why they might do - is it going to be there?
So for the next year through 2014 it will be there. We will across this year transition into resolute support. The rules of engagement etc for resolute support have yet to be finalised but certainly in this next year as we continue to train, advise, assist and move forward with this we will be a part of shaping these Afghan operations and training these operations.
How important do you think is the BSA and the SOFA in all this? How is progress in the future dependent on that?
Well, we (Afghanistan and the US forces) need the BSA in order to set the conditions to allow continued support by US forces, for Afghan forces.
The SOFA is an absolute requirement for the NATO forces to remain and be a part of the mission after 2014. We have a year now to work on this, we have a year to continue to develop these capabilities and I expect to see continued improvement in the ANA, the ANSF across that year (2014) but not everything will be complete at the end of this year and in order for us to remain and continue this mission of train, advice assist beyond 2014 we absolutely have to have these agreements - there will be no US forces without a BSA and there will be no NATO forces without a BSA and there will be no SOFA because the SOFA relies upon the BSA being signed. Years ago we said "in together, our together"..we are in together, we are out together.
What do you envisage will be NATO's role after 2014?
So we've come to call this, as I just mentioned, 'resolute support', the mission will change at the end of 2014 to 'resolute support'. We will enter into a non-combat phase, now clearly we will still be in a nation that will be facing combat by its military forces but at the end of 2014 and as 'resolute support' begins we will transition into purely a train, advise and assist mission. Now quite frankly we are approaching that. As you said before, you said 99 percent, I don't think it's quite 99 percent but it's close and during this year we will continue to draw down our actual combat contributions and the Afghans will be more and more and more in the lead and essentially I expect, and I think General Dunford expects, that by the middle of the year that we will almost already be in this train, advise and assist format. But certainly at the start of 2014 our, quote unquote, combat mission will be over and we will be in that role of helping develop military, ministerial capacities here in Afghanistan.
I have no wish to hold you a hostage to fortune but in five years’ time what's your vision of Afghanistan?
Well let me first come in on that part which I think is mine, which is the military role, the NATO role, in developing capacities for Afghanistan.
I believe if we can settle the requirements of the BSA and the SOFA so that we can emplace a well-run, well-manned, resolute support mission beginning in 2014 and we will continue to do the train, advise, assist mission behind this proud army, I think that we will see a military capacity across that five years that will be sustainable and that will be able to meet the needs of its nations forces, security and guaranteeing the safety of its people.
And so I have a very positive, more than glass half-full outlook. If we are able to get the underlying agreements correct so that we can move forward and continue this very important mission of continuing to develop those capacities that the the Aghan ANSF need then I see a very bright future.
I see a military that will be responsive to its people, a military that is responsive to its government, I see a military that will enable the nation to grow more and more towards those goals, those more political goals that we all want which is a government completely responsive to its people, able to meet its people's needs, a government that can guarantee that Afghanistan will never again be a haven for growth of extremist and terrorists etc etc so I really do believe that our part of this, which is working the military..I see it succeeding and meeting the requirements of this nation.
We do have an election on the horizon; do you think it's significant?
Well first let's talk a little bit about the election..making the election happen is a huge mission for the ANSF, and I must say that if they perform and I fully expect them to, as well as they did for the Loya Jirga, that making this happen will be a success for this nation.
The ANSF did a marvellous job in preparing and securing the Loya Jirga, and so I believe they are now ahead of schedule in preparing and being ready to secure this nation for the election and so the first and most important thing is that we, as military, allow this nation to have a responsive and well-represented election in the future and I expect the ANSF to do marvellously in this job.
This election is incredibly important that we see a smooth transition of power, that the people can look up and say this was a fair and open election and I see a government that represents me well and takes care of me and I think that we can expect that and again, my expectation is that the ANSF will to a wonderful job in setting the conditions to allow that sort of election to happen.