From NATO: As we approach the holiday season and the end of 2009, I should like to express my sincere gratitude to all of you who are deployed on NATO-led missions and operations, and my immense admiration for your professionalism, courage and dedication.

You, the armed forces, and the many civilians who support you, are demonstrating in the clearest possible way the Alliance’s solidarity and enduring commitment to security, peace and stability. Your bravery, hard work and personal sense of duty are qualities that mark you out as special; they are also qualities that mean your combined efforts are making a real difference and are an invaluable contribution to international security.

I realise full well that the Alliance’s commitment comes with a price. Some of your colleagues have lost their life or suffered serious injuries during the course of their duties. My thoughts are very much with the families and loved ones of those who have paid the highest price, as well as with those who have been injured and those who are caring for them.

It is understandable that in this festive season, you would wish to be at home with your families and loved ones. To those of you whose duties on behalf of the Alliance make this impossible, I should like you to know that whether you are deployed in Afghanistan, in the Balkans, in Iraq, on the Mediterranean Sea, or on the Indian Ocean off the Horn of Africa, my thoughts are very much with you.

I thank you all and send you my very best wishes for this holiday and for the New Year. (photo: NATO)