Leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation have endorsed plans to hand Afghan forces the lead for security across their country by mid-2013 while foreign troops will gradually switch their focus from combat to support mode.
In a Chicago summit declaration on Monday, US President Barack Obama and his 27 military allies confirmed plans to withdraw their combat troops by the end of 2014 and leave behind a training mission.
"The irreversible transition of full security responsibility from the International Security Assistance Force [ISAF] to the Afghan National Security Forces [ANSF] is on track for completion by the end of 2014," they said.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO's secretary-general, said that the international allies remained committed to a secure and democratic Afghanistan. To that end, he said, there would be a NATO-led presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014
to advise, train and assist Afghan forces.
Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, announced last week that his forces were ready to take over security in several new provinces, putting them in charge of protecting 75 per cent of Afghanistan's population.
"By mid-2013, when the fifth and final tranche of provinces starts transition, we will have reached an important milestone in our Lisbon roadmap, and the ANSF will be in the lead for security nationwide," the declaration said, referring to a 2010 NATO summit in Lisbon.
"At that milestone, as ISAF shifts from focusing primarily on combat increasingly to the provision of training, advice and assistance to the ANSF, ISAF will be able to ensure that the Afghans have the support they need as they adjust to their new increased responsibility," they said.
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"We are gradually and responsibly drawing down our forces to complete the ISAF mission by 31 December 2014."
The 28 allies, who discussed Afghanistan over dinner at Chicago's Soldier Field late Sunday, were to meet with their 22 partners in the Afghan mission as well as Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, on Monday.
Their declaration stated that the NATO-led combat mission would end by the end of 2014.
"NATO is ready to work towards establishing, at the request of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, a new post-2014 mission of a different nature in Afghanistan, to train, advise and assist the ANSF, including the Afghan Special Operations Forces.
"This will not be a combat mission. We task the [North Atlantic] Council to begin immediately work on the military planning process for the post-ISAF mission."
Obama's opening statement at the summit also indicated that the US and Pakistan have so far failed to reach an agreement for Islamabad to reopen key supply routes for NATO into Afghanistan.
Pakistan closed the supply lines in November following a US air strike that killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers. Washington offered condolences, but failed to apologise for the killings.
It was presumed that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's attendance of the summit was a sign that the country would lift the blockade.
But at the conference, Obama thanked other nations in Central Asia and Russia for their role in providing "critical transit'' for supplies, without making any mention of Pakistan.
Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane, reporting from Chicago, said that "US officials have gone out of their way to snub Pakistan" by seeking alternate routes.
"Basically, they [the US and NATO] are saying now that they don't think the deal will be worked out anytime soon," she said.
"So, they are working with countries to the north of Afghanistan to figure out a Plan B, a very public slap at Pakistan by the US president and the NATO secretary-general."
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies