BELGIUM–(ENEWSPF)–4 May 2011. Opening statement by NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Almost ten years ago, NATO took an unprecedented decision – it invoked article 5 of the Washington Treaty. Allies made clear that the September 11 attacks on the United States were an attack on all.
This week, the United States marked a significant success for the security of all Allies, and the security of the nations which have joined us in our efforts to combat the scourge of global terrorism. I congratulated President Obama and all those involved in the operation against the founder of Al Qaeda, the man who was directly responsible for the loss of thousands of innocent lives on September 11 and in other terrorist atrocities across the world.
You may ask: what does that mean to NATO, and what does that mean to our mission in Afghanistan? And my message is clear. We will stay the course. International terrorism continues to pose a direct threat to the security of our nations and to stability across the world.
Our reason for being in Afghanistan is clear and our strategy will not change. NATO Allies and partners will continue the mission to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for extremism, but develops in peace and security.
With gradual transition to lead Afghan responsibility for security, we have entered a new phase. That transition process remains fully on track and, with our Afghan partners; we aim to complete it by 2014.
NATO stands for the values of freedom, democracy and humanity that Osama bin Laden wanted to defeat. We will continue to stand for those values — from Afghanistan to Libya. And the democratic upheavals across North Africa and the Middle East show a clear rejection of extremism and indiscriminate attacks against civilians.
It is now just over a month since NATO took command of all military operations to protect civilians in Libya, under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. That is our mandate – and we are fulfilling that mandate.
NATO aircraft have flown over 5,000 sorties, at a consistent rate of more than 1,000 per week.
Almost half have been strike sorties. NATO pilots are striking persistently, but with care and precision. In Misrata, and in other parts of this vast country, we have protected large numbers of civilians against the onslaught of Qadhafi’s regime – and we are steadily degrading his ability to harm his own people. NATO is saving lives in Libya.
We are making sure that critical capabilities can no longer be used to launch and sustain attacks against cities and civilians, such as battle tanks, heavy artillery, and multiple rocket launchers. We are undermining the regime’s ability to command and control those brutal attacks from bunkers and communication centres. We are reducing the Libyan regime’s ability to sustain, supply and reinforce its forces in the field.
Because of the arms embargo we enforce, Qadhafi cannot buy the arms he wants to continue his attacks against civilians. Because of the no-fly zone we police, he cannot strike at men, women and children from the sky.
And because of the skill and courage of our pilots, he can no longer use massed formations of heavy armour to threaten cities, as he did to Benghazi before our operation began.
So, the nature of the conflict has changed significantly in a month.
But what has not changed and will not change is the resolve of NATO and our partners.
Because our responsibility is clear: to protect civilian life, as the United Nations Security Council mandated.
Our task is clear: to make sure that nobody can threaten or attack civilians or civilian populated areas anywhere in Libya.
We have set three goals, first all attacks and threats against civilians must cease. Second, all forces that threaten civilians, including snipers and mercenaries, must verifiably return to their bases. And three, free and unhindered humanitarian access to all those in Libya who need them must be guaranteed.
That is what NATO and partner foreign ministers agreed in Berlin. And that is what we will continue to do, for as long as necessary.
NATO will not sit by and watch history unfold. We are playing our part: to fulfil the United Nations mandate. To save lives in Libya. And to help the people of Libya shape their own future.
I am ready to take your questions.
NOTE: The audio tape of the question portion of today’s Press Confrerence can be found at: http://www.nato.int/cps/en/SID-77C6BE40-BCB599CB/natolive/opinions_73089.htm