April 8, 2010 for Medill Reports
by Josh Lederman

CHICAGO — The Secretary General of NATO pushed back Thursday against concerns that military resolve among allies in Afghanistan is weakening and stressed that 2010 will be a year of progress.

“I do realize that 2009 was a very difficult year and we experienced many setbacks in Afghanistan,” Anders Rasmussen acknowledged.

Yet he pointed to the addition of 40 thousand troops – most of them American – and the goal to train 300 thousand Afghan soldiers and police by October 2011 as reasons to be optimistic.

Asked how NATO will maintain continuity if partners withdraw, Rasmussen admitted that the Netherlands and Canada are engaging in heated discussions about their role in the 8-year-old war. Yet he said that so far all 28 NATO allies have remained fully engaged. Non-U.S. troops make up 40 percent of NATO’s military presence, he noted.

“It’s quite good I think, and a testimony of solidarity and strong commitment,” Rasmussen said. “So I’m not that worried.”

His comments came the same day that Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay announced during a surprise visit to Kabul that his country will be sending 90 additional troops to Afghanistan.

“I spend a lot of time trying to get one ally to contribute more trainers, or another to agree to pay for a critical military capability,” Rasmussen said in prepared remarks.

While admitting that mistakes have prevented faster progress in Afghanistan, the Secretary said NATO should have included the training of Afghan security forces in strategic thinking from the start. He criticized the failure of NATO, the United Nations and the European Union to plan or coordinate together, despite both being involved in the training of local police.

“I consider this to be an unacceptable waste of resources and effectiveness,” he said, blaming the failure on “political reasons totally separate from Afghanistan.”

Rasmussen served as the Prime Minister of Denmark from 2001 until he was elected Secretary General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2009. After taking office in August, his first trip abroad was to Afghanistan.

The Secretary’s address – his first in Chicago since taking office – was cosponsored by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the University of Chicago, which hosted the address.