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NATO willing to help to make Olympics as safe as possible ‘in support of our friends,’ says commander

Just a few days after the recent NATO summit in Istanbul, the Alliance’s senior military commander and head of the US forces in Europe, General James Jones, was in Athens to talk to the Greek authorities about preparations for Olympic Games security, indicating the high priority which NATO is giving the issue. During his lightning visit, Kathimerini talked to the general about security for the Games and what changes might occur in NATO, Iraq and Afghanistan after the Istanbul summit. General Jones, the first marine to assume the top NATO post in its history, did not conceal his concern over events in Kosovo. The next time he visits Athens, he will not only be in his official capacity but as a spectator at the Games, following an invitation from General Georgios Antonakopoulos, chief of general staff. After your briefings here in Athens, what are your feelings about security preparations for the Olympics? I think we are making very good progress. As you know, NATO’s mission is to provide assistance and we are doing that. We think both that on the political dimension and that of military execution, things are progressing, and I think we will be prepared when opening day happens. There is also the question of security here in the center of Athens. The security of the Olympics is obviously a host nation problem. NATO are going to provide the assistance that is requested and generally that is in the sector of AWACS, chemical, biological and radiological response capability, intelligence and maritime security. So we are not talking about thousands of NATO troops. The question you just posed is really under the responsibility of the Greek goverment. Do you feel there are weak points in the preparations? I wouldn’t say there are weak points. I think when you bring forces into a theater you have to build the bridges, and the cohesion you want between national capabilities and the Alliance capabilities are coming in to augment those. These are things that will be worked on. We have had rehearsals already, we have had exercises, we have many more exercises to get ready. This morning, I met with the public order minister and we reviewed a number of important issues. It is important to have transparency into each other’s plans so that they fit well together. This is normal work in progress and I am happy with our direction. At the Istanbul summit, regarding security measures, it was impossible for anyone to get inside, but the rest of city was not covered. Is that enough? Well, again, obviously for the summit it was, for other than a few demonstrations, there was no major incident. It is very hard for any military, whether Athens, New York or Paris, to guarantee there will be nothing that happens in a city. We can’t do that in peace time – there is always crime, you can’t give 100 percent coverage. So you have to protect the areas you are trying to protect. Particularly in the Olympics, that is what the mission is, to protect the integrity of Olympics. So you have to focus your forces in such a way that you can do that. If there is an incident somewhere else, you have to be able to react to that. It is not just inside the loop, that is the access you want to prevent. By the same token, outside you have to have some capacity – police, medical, fires, but these types of responses are the responsibility of the host nation. There are some who oppose NATO’s participation in Games security. What can you say to them? I would remind those who are critics that Greece is a longstanding NATO member, that this is a big family of 26 countries, we have militaries that know each other and have worked together for years. ..and we are willing to do this in support of our friends. I think that is what a great alliance is for – one of my favorite sayings is that «a great alliance should be prepared to do great things.» Assisting in the Olympics, making sure it is as safe, secure and happy as possible without the obvious presence of massive military forces is what we all think is eminently possible and we will all work to make it a success. Will you be here for the Games? I have received a very kind invitation and I am going to accept. What has changed for NATO since the Istanbul summit? The first thing is that we have obviously picked up some direction with regard to the training of the Iraqi forces, both inside and outside Iraq. We have received enough offers from countries to finish building the force for the Kabul mission. We will begin to expand the NATO mission. .. in the north of Afghanistan where we will have at least five and as many as seven provincial reconstruction teams. We will have generated some of the force – hopefully all – to ensure the protection of the election process. I came away happy with the results in terms of my missions. Has the experience of Afghanistan been helpful in Iraq in any way? That remains to be seen, to be honest with you. NATO has not really done a training and equipment operation of this magnitude before. There are people doing it now in the coalition so I’ll be able to answer that a little bit better once I understand the mission because I don’t understand the scope of it right now. I am sending teams in very quickly to work in coalition with the interim government to try to understand how we can help. This sounds a little bit critical of the decision-makers. No, I don’t mean it that way. It’s just a different mission and there are people who are doing it now. National leaders have decided to embrace this mission and before I can give military advice to the North Atlantic Council, I need to understand it more. We have been focusing on the primary NATO mission which is Afghanistan. I am very happy with how that is going. I’m sure if we were sitting here several weeks from now, I would tell you more. This is normal. It’s the beginning of another mission. We have to think it through: who pays for it, what are the allies prepared to do, what are we prepared to do inside Iraq, what do we wish to do outside Iraq, how do you command and control it, how do you support it logistically, do you bring the current NATO countries who are in the coalition who are training forces right now. Those are normal issues. So far, the experience in Iraq has not been so positive for the Alliance. You mean for the Polish-led multinational division? Yes, do you believe this is true of NATO involvement as well? It’s hard to predict. Obviously, Iraq can potentially be a dangerous place. But it’s clear that the future of the Iraqi government’s ability to govern is going to be tied to the quality of the force it is able to generate. One of the success stories in Afghanistan is the emergence of an Afghan army that is actually going to be quite good and so we are hoping we will have a similar success in Iraq and it is the right task. You have to get the instruments of protection and security if you ever plan on being able to pull out… Concern about Kosovo Some months ago, there were serious incidents in Kosovo. Are you afraid there will be trouble there in future and what will NATO do in that case, particularly in view of the elections there? I am concerned about Kosovo. I think that we need more international political direction from the UN and I think at the political level, nations need to focus on the unresolved issues. I am happy with the force that we have. We have been doing some re-training and looking at national caveats. We have been trying to get some new technologies that can help the commander (in the province) but in the end we need a political impetus, a clear goal and an end-state that we can shoot toward, and I think that is a little bit soft right now.