As we wrap up high summer, it's a sensible time to look ahead at the fall and think about the big tasks facing the NATO Alliance and US European Command. The Olympics and the Jubilee fade to memory, and hopefully most folks have managed to break away for a short vacation to recharge. The autumn will be a busy time.
From an Alliance perspective, we are very focused -- as you would expect -- on Afghanistan. That is really "job one," and will continue to absorb a great deal of our time and attention. Even given the setbacks, as I've often written over the past year the progress there, which continues, has been significant especially in the security sector.
We are transitioning to Afghan-led security in 75% of the country, and our plan to turn over complete control by the end of 2014 remains on track. Afghans now lead over 50% of the security operations, and we are partnered together on over 90% of them. In a recent and tragic Blackhawk helicopter crash, we lost both US SEALS and Afghan Commandos -- fallen heroes who fought together "shohna ba shohna", or shoulder-to-shoulder in Dari. There are 350,000 or so Afghan security forces, and they are taking casualties at about five times the rate of coalition soldiers. Their numbers and capability are rising. Our own casualty rates are down about 25% over last year, reflecting Afghans stepping to the lead.
Naturally, we are very concerned about another increasing negative trend: attacks by Afghan security forces on coalition forces. These have grown significantly compared to last year, and while statistically tiny (about 30) compared to the vast number of opportunities for such attacks given our work together (thousands of chances daily), they can have a negative impact on morale and perception out of proportion to their military impact. We're reviewing all our procedures carefully, vetting incoming Afghan security forces even more precisely, developing procedures to protect our troops, and using biometrics thoroughly.
This fall, the focus in Afghanistan will be on transition to Afghan led security, continuing to bring coalition combat forces down (US forces will drop to 68,000 shortly, from a high of well over 100,000), redeploying our equipment, training the Afghan security teams, and increasing combat capability in the east while consolidating significant gains in the south.
There will be good days and bad, but the overall trend is positive and we're on track to success. The key in the security sector will be maintaining mentoring, training, and funding for the Afghans through the transition.
Other operational tasks for NATO will be keeping peace in the Balkans (we still have 6,000 troops in Kosovo, which is tense but calm); continuing our strong progress against piracy (attacks have dropped in half compared to last year); improving our cyber defense capability (needs work); and further deployment of our missile defense system (radar in Turkey, AEGIS ships at sea, command and control in Ramstein, Germany). Busy, busy.
At the philosophical level, it is time to think about "NATO 3.0." I'll write more about this in the fall, but here is the idea: If we were a computer program, "NATO 1.0" was the Cold War -- massive, static, locked in a bipolar (and simple) struggle with the Soviet Union. "NATO 2.0" is what we have today -- globally deployed, heavily committed out of area, troops on three continents, a massive structure in Afghanistan. As we come out of Afghanistan in a couple of years, what does "NATO 3.0" look like? Stay tuned, as we shape it together.
Over at US European Command, we'll be working to support the nearly 10,000 troops we forward deploy to Afghanistan, consolidating base structure in Europe (continuing to reduce our footprint), devising rotational schemes to bolster our allies in the Baltics and Eastern Europe, working on the US parts of the NATO missile defense system, and focusing on our key relationships in Israel (part of the EUCOM remit for military-to-military contact), Poland, Turkey, and Russia -- where we seek zones of cooperation, recognizing we'll have differences in various areas.
EUCOM will also work on our key focus areas: international cooperation, interagency integration and private-public collaboration, and strategic communication. This all helps create what I've called elsewhere "open source security."
The wild card, of course, will be Syria and the Levant. The civil war in Syria continues to burn, with over 20,000 dead and perhaps a million pushed out of their homes. Lebanon is increasingly affected. Israel is deeply concerned, even as they continue to watch Iran. The Eastern Med is full of warships from lots of different nations. With struggling diplomatic efforts for Syria, there are increasing calls for military and humanitarian intervention.
Admiral James Stavridis
Commander, U.S. European Command and
Supreme Allied Commander Europe