NATO Finalizing Long-Term Commitment in Afghanistan

Posted April 18th, 2012 at 2:25 pm (UTC-5)
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NATO's chief says coalition members have begun outlining their future commitments to Afghanistan after international combat troops leave the country and transfer security responsibility to local forces by a 2014 deadline.

NATO Secretary-General Anders-Fogh Rasmussen told reporters that a number of member-states put forward planned financial contributions to Afghan security forces during Wednesday's meeting of NATO foreign and defense ministers in Brussels. Rasmussen said it was up to the each individual ally to make their plans public, but that he was very pleased to note the strong commitment to Afghan forces.

Top U.S. and NATO officials are at NATO headquarters finalizing plans to withdraw the remaining 130,000 foreign combat troops from Afghanistan and figuring out how to pay for an effective Afghan security force. The two-day meeting lays the groundwork for a summit of NATO leaders in Chicago next month.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who attended Wednesday's meeting, said the United States will work with the Afghans to make sure local forces are fully funded. Panetta said history proves that “insurgencies are defeated not by foreign troops but by indigenous forces.”

On Tuesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he wants, as part of a strategic partnership agreement, a written guarantee from the United States that it will provide $2 billion a year to fund Afghan security forces after the 2014 security handover. Rasmussen and U.S. officials have suggested the costs could come closer to $4 billion a year.

“You're right that a figure around four billion US dollars a year has been mentioned. I would like to stress that neither this ministers' meeting nor the Chicago summit will be a pledging conference but I would expect that at the Chicago summit we will get a clear picture of the commitment to financing the Afghan Security Forces.”

Insurgents in Afghanistan have been stepping up attacks, launching an offensive this week that claimed the lives of four civilians, 11 Afghan security personnel and 36 militants.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, U.S. and NATO officials have praised the performance of Afghan police and troops who took the lead on countering the attack.

On Wednesday, Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Mohammad Zahir Azimi said Afghans will be ready to take the lead on security by the end of 2013. He added that the number of Afghan National Army soldiers has reached 195,000. There are currently more than 320,000 Afghan troops and police.

Defense Secretary Panetta told reporters in Brussels that Afghans have been leading night counterterrorism operations since last December and that in less than six months, Afghans will take control of detention centers from U.S. and NATO forces.

NATO Secretary-General Rasmussen also reaffirmed Wednesday that the timetable for leaving Afghanistan and transferring security responsibility to Afghan forces has not changed.

On Tuesday, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that her country's troops would begin pulling out of Afghanistan one year earlier than planned. She said most of her country's 1,550 troops would return home by the end of 2013, thanks in part to security improvements and the death of Osama bin Laden.

In Brussels Wednesday, German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere said while he was “surprised” by the Australian prime minister's announcement, the timeline will not change.

“But this should not confuse our strategy. Until the end of 2014 the withdrawal will be organized – and organized in a effective way so that security will be assured – and this will remain our strategy, as we have said up until now.”

Australia is not the first country to accelerate its withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. Earlier this year, France said its combat forces would also leave the country by the end of 2013, also a year ahead of schedule.

Many observers fear that other countries could follow suit, leading to a dangerous “race to the exits” as the more than decade-long war winds down.