NATO: Bin Laden Death Won't Alter Afghan Mission

May 8, 2011

NPR Staff

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." Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.