As we complete the international combat mission at the end of 2014, we open a new chapter in the relationship between NATO and Afghanistan.
The security of Afghanistan will be fully in the hands of the country’s 350,000 Afghan soldiers and police. But NATO Allies, together with many partner nations, will remain to train, advise and assist them. We are not walking away.
This transition is what NATO and Afghan leaders agreed together. It has been made possible by the courage and capability of the Afghan National Security Forces, and by the dedication of the international forces who helped train them over the past years.
In the recent weeks, we have seen horrendous attacks in Kabul, Paktika and other parts of Afghanistan, which killed many Afghan civilians, including children. Brave Afghan soldiers and police lost their lives to keep their country secure. We condemn these inhumane acts in the strongest terms. And to the perpetrators of those acts we say: your efforts are in vain.
The Afghan security forces are the pride and the protection of Afghanistan. They are a force for all Afghans, and all Afghans can be proud of them. And we stand by them.
Of course, many challenges remain, and there is much work still to do. The Afghan security forces will continue to need our help as they develop. And we will continue to provide that help.
Our new mission, “Resolute Support,” will bring together around 12,000 men and women from many parts of the world. The 28 NATO Allies will contribute in different ways, joined by 14 partner nations. The United States will be in the lead to train, advise and assist in the south and east of Afghanistan. Germany will be in the lead in the north. Italy in the west. And Turkey in the capital.
Our mission is based on a request from the Afghan government and the Status of Forces Agreement between NATO and Afghanistan. Moreover, the United Nations Security Council unanimously welcomed the agreement between Afghanistan and NATO to establish the mission and stressed the importance of continued international support for the stability of Afghanistan.
We will also contribute to the financing of the Afghan forces. President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah have pledged that international funding will be handled efficiently, transparently and accountably. That is important to our tax-payers, and we count on the National Unity Government to live up to that promise.
Beyond forces and funding, NATO and Afghanistan will build something still stronger: an enduring partnership which reflects our joint interests, shapes our joint cooperation and contributes to our shared security. We will enhance practical cooperation, including building the capacity of Afghan security institutions, and hold political dialogue and regular consultations on a range of topics of mutual interest.
We discussed this together with President Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah at the meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels this month. Together, we agreed to set up a joint task force to begin putting the partnership into practice for the benefit of our nations.
As we start to write this new chapter in our partnership, it is also the time to look back. For over a decade, NATO and our partners have stood with Afghanistan. 51 different nations have contributed – over a quarter of the countries of the world. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has been the largest military coalition in recent history and represents an unprecedented international effort. The mandate of the United Nations Security Council was to help the Afghan authorities provide security across the country and develop new Afghan forces.
This mandate was carried out at great cost, but with great success. We will always remember the sacrifice of international and Afghan forces, who deserve our respect and our gratitude.
Thanks to the remarkable effort of our forces, we have achieved what we set out to do. We have made our own nations safer, by denying safe haven to international terrorists. We have made Afghanistan stronger, by building up from scratch 350,000 strong security forces. And together, we have created the conditions for a better future for millions of Afghan men, women and children.
I visited Afghanistan not long ago. I saw the quiet pride of ISAF soldiers about what has been achieved, despite so many challenges. I saw the strong determination of Afghan forces. And I spoke to young Afghans, who have high hopes for their future.
Afghanistan is already a different country from what it was thirteen years ago. It is worth remembering what the situation was over a decade ago, after the dark days of the Taliban. There was little government and little security. The ministries in Kabul lacked not just telephones and computers, but even desks and chairs.
Now, the Afghan army and police are over 350,000 strong. Afghanistan has made the largest percentage gain of any country in the world in basic health and development indicators. Maternal mortality is going down, life expectancy is rising, and there is a vibrant media scene. This year millions of people exercised their right to vote, and the National Unity Government was established.
So despite all the challenges, Afghans now live longer, have more opportunities to work, and have a better chance of a better future than at any time in their history. And there is a clear government commitment to continue vital reforms, including in the areas of good governance, accountability, and human rights, including rights for women.
As 2015 dawns, it brings a new responsibility for Afghanistan, a new mission for NATO, and a new degree of partnership between us. We have stood shoulder to shoulder for over a decade to maintain and enhance security for the Afghan people and our own citizens. Now we are proud to write together a new chapter in our relationship. For the security of Afghanistan, and our own.