We won't leave you alone after 2014, NATO tells Afghanistan
Oct 6, 2011, 14:24 GMT
Brussels - The Western plan to leave frontline security in the hands of the Afghan police and army does not mean that the country will be left to fend for itself when the handover is complete in late 2014, NATO said Thursday.
The transition strategy started in July, and is set to continue this month with half of the Afghan population expected to come under the responsibility of local security forces. As the plan advances, NATO countries are expected to reduce their own troop numbers.
'Let there be no mistake: transition is not departure. We will not take our leave when the Afghans take the lead,' NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said. 'We will stay committed and not leave behind a security vacuum,' he insisted.
Speaking after a two-day meeting in Brussels in which NATO defence ministers also met their Afghan counterpart Abdul Rahim Wardak, Rasmussen said he expected an international conference in Bonn to 'send a very big signal ... that we will not abandon Afghanistan.'
Training Afghan security forces would be a 'key element' of post-2014 engagement, Rasmussen said, indicating that decisions on are expected at the NATO's Chicago summit in May next year.
But he said it was 'a bit too early' to say how many foreign troops will be needed to carry out that task. 'That will very much depend on the security situation at the end of 2014,' he noted.
United States Defence Secretary Leon Panetta - whose country is planning to withdraw 10,000 soldiers this year and over 20,000 in 2012, reversing the recent surge in troops numbers - said all contributing nations are committed to stay the course.
'It is clear than noone is rushing to the exit,' he said of the 49 countries supporting NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere was extremely cautious about German drawdown plans.
'Climbing down a tree is more difficult than climbing up it quickly,' he said, explaining that he would consult later Thursday with countries which have troops under German command in the north of Afghanistan.
'In the north, we also have responsibility for soldiers of other nations who are there with us, so we will first discuss today and then we will consult in the German government. I do not want to make a statement today on the size and the start' of the drawdown, he said.
The Western strategy in Afghanistan also involves encouraging Afghan authorities to conduct peace negotiations with elements of the Taliban-led insurgency that are ready to lay down their arms.
'Honestly speaking, we have not seen much progress,' Rasmussen said.
He was speaking weeks after chief negotiator and former president Burhanuddin Rabbani was killed in a suicide attack, which is suspected to have been carried out by Islamists based in Pakistan.
President Hamid Karzai's recent proposal to directly involve Pakistan in the peace talks 'makes sense,' Rasmussen opined, while stressing that NATO would not have any involvement in the process.
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