NATO: Bin Laden Death Won't Alter Afghan Mission

Originally published on May 9, 2011 5:42 pm

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says the killing of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan will not change the alliance's mission in Afghanistan.

Rasmussen tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered, that bin Laden's death is "a major blow to international terrorism."

"On the other hand, we should also realize that terrorist networks still exist, and we're in Afghanistan to prevent the country from ever again becoming a safe haven for terrorism," he said. "The Taliban still constitutes a threat. So we will stay as long as it takes to accomplish our mission."

There are some 130,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, mostly American, and the alliance is committed to handing over the control of security in the country to Afghans by 2014.

"The criterion of success is to see the Afghan security forces take full responsibility for the security," Rasmussen said.

The NATO chief said there are already 280,000 Afghan soldiers and police in place, and their quality is quickly improving. He noted that Afghan soldiers now participate in nearly all military operations in the country.

"We're not there yet, but we're making strong progress," he said.

Libya: 'Time Is Running Out For Gadhafi'

NATO's other major mission is in Libya, where it is empowered by the United Nations Security Council to act to protect civilians from Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Rasmussen said the mission had been a success even though Gadhafi is still firmly in power nearly two months after the operation began.

"Time is running out for Gadhafi," Rasmussen said. "We have conducted our air operations and taken out significant parts of Gadhafi's military capabilities."

He added: "What counts is the result: namely the protection of civilians in Libya, and we will continue as long as it takes to stop all attacks against the civilian population."

Ramussen said NATO had three military objectives for the operation: An end to attacks against the civilian populations; a withdrawal of Gadhafi's military forces and paramilitary forces to their bases and barracks; and immediate and unhindered access for humanitarian assistance to Libya.

"When these three military objectives are fulfilled, we could say mission accomplished," Rasmussen said. "But having said that, I should also add that it's hard to imagine that the attacks against the civilian population stop as long as Gadhafi is still in power. So time has come for Gadhafi to leave power."

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GUY RAZ, host:

We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

The killing of Osama bin Laden hasn't just raised questions about the U.S. relationship with Pakistan, as we just heard, but also questions about its effect on the NATO mission in neighboring Afghanistan. That campaign was originally designed to eliminate the possibility that Afghanistan could be used as a staging ground by groups like al-Qaida. Now, the mission is somewhat broader. The goal, also to bring some stability to that country.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the one time prime minister of Denmark, has said the death of bin Laden will not change NATO's mission, a mission that is supposed to wind down in 2014.

And Secretary General Rasmussen is here in the studio with me now.

Mr. Secretary, welcome.

Secretary General ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (NATO): Thank you.

RAZ: First, to Afghanistan. What impact, if any, does the killing of bin Laden have on the fight in Afghanistan?

Sec. Gen. RASMUSSEN: First of all, I have to say the very successful operation against Osama bin Laden is a major blow to international terrorism. And in that respect, it will definitely have a very, very positive impact. On the other hand, we should also realize that terrorist networks still exist, and we are in Afghanistan to prevent the country from, ever again, becoming a safe haven for terrorism.

RAZ: As you know, there are some 130,000 NATO troops in Afghanistan, most of those U.S. troops. At what point realistically can you say the mission has been accomplished? What are the benchmarks you need to see satisfied?

Sec. Gen. RASMUSSEN: Well, (unintelligible), the benchmark is to see the Afghans take responsibility themselves. So I would say the criterion of success is to see the Afghan security forces take full responsibility for the security.

RAZ: But why not now? Why in two years or three years from now?

Sec. Gen. RASMUSSEN: Because it is a challenging process to make sure that the Afghan security forces...

RAZ: They're not there yet.

Sec. Gen. RASMUSSEN: We're not there yet, but we are making strong progress. Already now, we have more than 280,000 Afghan soldiers and police. And also as regards quality, we have seen strong improvements. Afghan soldiers are now participating in nearly all military operations in Afghanistan.

And as a recent example, the attacks in Kandahar, it was a very spectacular Taliban attack, but they failed. Actually, 14 insurgents were killed. And the Afghan security forces succeeded in defeating the insurgents.

RAZ: Let me turn now to NATO's other military campaign, the one in Libya. The assumption presented was that this would be over quickly, that Gadhafi would be ousted. He is still firmly in power nearly two months later. Has that been a success?

Sec. Gen. RASMUSSEN: Yes, indeed. And time is running out for Gadhafi. We have conducted our air operations and taken out significant parts of Gadhafi's military capabilities. That way, we are protecting the civilian population in Libya as mandated by the U.N. Security Council Resolution. So we're on the right track.

RAZ: But at what point does the current run its course? I mean, if Gadhafi remains in power, can NATO end it in this campaign of airstrikes?

Sec. Gen. RASMUSSEN: We have defined three very clear military objectives for our operation: Firstly, a complete end to all attacks against the civilian populations; secondly, a withdrawal of Gadhafi's military forces and paramilitary forces to their bases and barracks; and thirdly, immediate and unhindered access for humanitarian assistance to Libya.

When these three military objectives are fulfilled, we could say mission accomplished. But having said that, I should also add that it's hard to imagine the attacks against the civilian population stop as long as Gadhafi is still in power. So time has come for Gadhafi to leave power.

RAZ: But conceivably, victory could be achieved even with Gadhafi remaining in power, if all those criteria are satisfied.

Sec. Gen. RASMUSSEN: No. Actually, I don't think so because we have seen Gadhafi and his regime attack the civilian population systematically. It's outrageous what we are seeing right now, for instance, in Misrata.

RAZ: How much longer do you believe that this campaign of airstrikes could last? Two months, five months, a year?

Sec. Gen. RASMUSSEN: I'm not going to guess about timelines. (Unintelligible) is the protection of civilians in Libya, and we will continue as long as it takes to stop all attacks against the civilian population.

RAZ: That's Anders Fogh Rasmussen. He is the secretary general of NATO.

Mr. Secretary General, thank you for coming in.

Sec. Gen. RASMUSSEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.