NATO Promises Transition of Control to Afghans Beginning this Year

NATO’s top official expressed optimism Friday that Afghan troops could be taking responsibility for security in their country this year, but he said more foreign military trainers were needed to ease the transition.

Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen spoke after a meeting with NATO foreign ministers about setting the conditions that will allow Afghan troops to take the lead. “As of today, we have a road map which will lead towards a transition to Afghan leadership starting this year, at which point our publics will start to see the progress for which they quite rightly have been asking,” Rasmussen told reporters at a news conference. (Washington Post)

Rasmussen is seeking 450 more military and police trainers to work with Afghan forces as U.S. and NATO troops seek to move into more of a support role. “It will not be a pull-out; it will not be a run for the exit,” Mr. Rasmussen added. “Afghan soldiers will need our support for quite some time. It will be a gradual process.” (New York Times)

Turning over control to the Afghan forces is key to President Obama’s war strategy, which calls for some of the 90,000 U.S. troops currently in the ravaged country to start returning home in July 2011.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed Rasmussen’s upbeat tone, saying she was seeing the results of improved international corporation on Afghanistan. Clinton has also lavished praise on the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, signaling the end to a public spat over his performance in fighting corruption and establishing democratic governance.

“The success of the Karzai administration and the Afghan government are rarely talked about. There is a tremendous set of achievements, whether it’s the number of people going to school or getting health care or farmers producing a bumper wheat crop last year. There’s just so many positive developments that rarely get much attention,” Clinton said. (Washington Post)

She added that she and Obama “look forward to welcoming” Karzai to Washington for a visit next month.

Clinton said she was “convinced we will get that filled.” She said U.S. allies had contributed 10,000 troops to the Obama administration’s “surge” into Afghanistan, which was announced last year. There are now about 40,000 foreign troops in the country, in addition to U.S. forces. “For me, the glass is way more than half-full” in terms of commitments the Obama administration received from its allies, Clinton said. (Washington Post)

Warning against what she called unfair expectations about the security situation in Afghanistan, Mrs. Clinton said it would face threats from insurgents for years to come, and likened the situation to the chronic battle between soldiers and Taliban insurgents in neighbouring Pakistan.

“We believe that with sufficient attention, training and mentoring, the Afghans themselves are perfectly capable of defending themselves against insurgents,” she told a news conference at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Tallinn, Estonia. “Does that mean it will be smooth sailing? I don’t think so. Look at Iraq.” (CBC)

Although Afghanistan is by far NATO’s largest and most complex operation, it drew relatively little attention at a meeting dominated by discussion about the strategic future of the 61-year-old alliance, and by how NATO members will confront nuclear weapons on European soil.

Mr. Rasmussen announced that NATO would grant Bosnia-Herzegovina’s request for a formal procedure to join the alliance, known as a membership action plan. But the clock will not start ticking, he said, until Bosnia’s leaders agree to sell off old military bases and barracks.

Several European countries have been agitating for the United States to begin withdrawing tactical nuclear weapons from their countries, now that President Obama had concluded a new strategic nuclear arms deal with Russia. But Mr. Rasmussen stressed that NATO would act with deliberation, and only after all 28 of its members come to an agreement.

“Decisions on our nuclear policy will be made by the alliance together,” he said. “Our unity on this will remain absolutely solid.” (New York Times)

Mr. Rasmussen said the 28-nation alliance is on track with its new strategy for winding down the war in Afghanistan, despite security setbacks and a continuing shortage of foreign trainers for the fledgling Afghan police and army.

“Our aims in 2010 are clear: to take the initiative against the insurgents, to help the Afghan government exercise its sovereignty, and to start handing over responsibility for Afghanistan to the Afghans this year,” he said. (CBC)

He said the NATO foreign ministers agreed on what it will take to create conditions enabling Afghans to assume control of their country. He was not specific about what those conditions would be, but said progress is important to avoid further erosion of public support for the war effort.

“Where it occurs, the transition must be not just sustainable but irreverible,” Fogh Rasmussen told reporters at the conclusion of the two-day meeting. (CBC)


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