Croatia is a young NATO member and it gives the alliance fresh energy and ideas and it has already made a grat contribution to the mission in Afghanistan for which NATO and the Afghan people are very grateful, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Zagreb on Friday after a meeting with Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic.
Rasmussen told reporters after the talks that Croatia played a central role in training the Afghan military police, a very important component of each army. He stressed that Croatia's role was important not only for Afghanistan but for Southeast Europe as well.
NATO members Croatia and Slovenia are taking part in the training school, together with members of the Adriatic Charter - Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Macedonia - which are also aspiring to join the alliance.
These countries, under Croatia's leadership, are building stability in Afghanistan and strengthening their mutual cooperation, which helps the security not only in Asia but in Europe as well, Rasmussen said.
He reiterated that Croatia was an example for this region because its NATO membership and forthcoming admission in the European Union show how much it can be done if a lot of effort is invested and if there is courage to make tough decisions. The NATO head called on political leaders of the countries in the region to follow Croatia's example.
Asked to comment on yesterday's decision by several dozen Afghan police, trained by NATO forces, to switch sides and join the Taliban and how that reflected on the overall situation in Afghanistan, Rasmussen said NATO was on the right path to leave the country's security to the Afghan military and police forces.
The objective is to have about 350,000 military and police troops to provide for the Afghan security, Rasmussen said, adding that soon 75% of the country's population could live in areas guarded by local forces.
He also expressed conviction that the Afghan forces would assume the responsibility for their country's security by the end of 2014, as planned.
Croatian PM Milanovic and Rasmussen discussed many issues of common interest to NATO and Croatia, including the chances Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina have to join NATO.
Asked about withdrawing Croatian troops from Afghanistan, Milanovic recalled that the NATO policy was "together we go in, together we go out". He also said Croatia made a pledge to finance the training of Afghan troops after it leaves the country, saying this would cost less than to have its own troops in Afghanistan.
The two interlocutors also discussed NATO's "smart defence" concept.