NATO Allies Discuss New Timeframe for Afghan Transition

Posted February 2nd, 2012 at 3:25 pm (UTC-5)
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NATO defense ministers, taking part in a two-day meeting in Brussels, joined the United States and France Thursday in calling for Afghan forces to take the lead in all combat operations by 2013 — a year earlier than originally envisioned.

NATO Secretary-General Anders-Fogh Rasmussen told the gathering he backs the new timeframe but stressed there are no plans to leave Afghanistan early. He said NATO expects the last provinces to be handed over to the Afghans by mid-2013 and from that time the role of NATO troops will gradually change from combat to support.

Rasmussen added that any moves by individual allies must be coordinated with the NATO command in Kabul.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have each suggested the coalition should end its combat role in 2013 — a year earlier than planned. Panetta called 2013 a crucial year for the final transfer of remaining areas to Afghan security forces, but added no decisions have been made about the level of U.S. forces remaining in Afghanistan once that combat role has ended.

During the two-day meeting, NATO defense ministers will hear from their commander in Afghanistan — U.S. Marine Corps General John Allen. The ministers also will be looking for indications of whether the French and American 2013 plans are practical.

In Washington, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the process of transfer from NATO to the Afghan lead has already begun and will continue. He said the U.S. forces could “potentially” remain in combat role until the end of 2014, noting transfer of security forces lead does not mean full removal of forces.

The NATO meeting in Brussels is being held just days after a leaked coalition report revealed that members of the Taliban insurgency are confident they can regain power in Afghanistan once coalition troops have departed.

The meeting is meant to lay the groundwork for a larger NATO gathering set for Chicago in May.