NATO Readies Afghan Exit as Invasion’s 10th Anniversary Looms

Posted October 6th, 2011 at 6:05 pm (UTC-5)
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NATO says its plans to hand over security responsibility to the Afghan government remain on track as hundreds protested in Kabul calling for the immediate withdrawal of international forces ahead of the 10th anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday he believes the transition process will “not be derailed.”

The coalition has begun to relinquish important security duties to Afghanistan's army and police in a gradual process that will see all foreign combat troops leave the country by the end of 2014. Rasmussen said NATO would continue in a supporting role after that date, especially in training Afghan forces.

Separately, the Reuters news agency cited U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as telling NATO ministers in Brussels that even as the U.S. lowers its troop presence, it would not withdraw important resources such as medical evacuation teams, helicopters and intelligence gathering assets needed by allies.

There are currently more than 130,000 international troops in Afghanistan, mostly from the United States.

Meanwhile, protesters in the Afghan capital carried placards condemning the invasion and blaming the U.S. and its allies for civilian deaths. During the march, some demonstrators set a U.S. flag on fire.

The protest marked the 10th anniversary of the October 7, 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, which ousted the Taliban.

In Washington, the International Monetary Fund reached a tentative agreement with Afghanistan for a three-year, $129 million loan to support economic reforms after similar funding was suspended over the Kabul Bank scandal.

The IMF said Afghan authorities had made “important progress” in managing the crisis at the bank, which nearly collapsed last year because of mismanagement and questionable lending.

Also Thursday, a U.S. rights group called on the Obama administration to begin providing due process for the thousands of suspected insurgents the U.S. military is holding without charge at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.

Human Rights First said prisoners at Bagram are not allowed legal representation and do not have a meaningful opportunity to defend themselves against charges they supported the Taliban or otherwise participated in assaults against U.S. forces.

Insurgents have carried out a number of high-profile attacks and targeted killings.

In the latest incident Thursday, militants opened fire on a civilian bus, killing a man and a child and wounding 16 others in southern Helmand province. The commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, U.S. General John Allen, condemned the attack along with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

A day earlier, the Afghan intelligence agency announced it had arrested six people in connection with a foiled plot to assassinate Mr. Karzai.