Targets set by the US aims at the Afghan army and police growing from 260,000 to 306,000 by next October [AFP]

The United States and its allies plan to begin transferring security enforcement to Afghan forces in parts of the country in the next 18 to 24 months, The New York Times reported.

The US plan is to be presented at a Nato meeting in Lisbon later this week to decide on a "roadmap" that could allow the alliance to wind down its forces. Building up Afghan security forces as quickly as possible is key to the withdrawal strategy. 

The US strategy, the most concrete to date, is similar to the path taken in Iraq, where a surge in troops initiated by the Bush administration enabled Barack Obama, the US president, to pull out most US soldiers by late 2009.

"Iraq is a pretty decent blueprint for how to transition in Afghanistan," an anonymous US official told the paper on Sunday.

"But the key will be constructing an Afghan force that is truly capable of taking the lead."

Leaders of the 28-member Nato bloc are gathering in the Portuguese capital Lisbon on Friday, where they are expected to endorse the aspiration expressed by Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, for Afghan security forces to take the lead in all provinces by 2014.

Targets set by the US aim for the Afghan army and police to grow from 260,000 to 306,000 by next October.

Canada plans to withdraw its troops from the country but has said several hundred of its 2,900-strong contingent will stay behind as trainers. The Netherlands, which has already withdrawn its troops, also plans on establishing a training mission.

The meeting comes against a backdrop of rising violence in Afghanistan. Public support for the decade-long war is lagging in Western countries. 

The violence is at its worse since the Taliban government was overthrown in 2001.

Taliban attack

On Monday, Taliban fighters launched an attack on a telecommunications tower, killing nine security guards and a police officer in the ensuing firefight, police have said.

Police said the raid on the tower, in Kunduz province, took place before dawn.

Seven Taliban fighters were killed in the attack, they said.

The guards were local villagers tasked with protecting the telecommunications tower and its workers.

Meanwhile, the number of Nato soldiers killed in a clash with Taliban fighters on the weekend rose to five. The death toll was the highest for foreign troops in six months.
 
The Nato-led forces did not say where the fighting occurred, but the Taliban said on their website that they had battled Nato troops for several hours in eastern Kunar province on Sunday.

A total of seven soldiers from the Nato-led force were killed on Sunday, including a Dane and Briton in separate explosions in the south.

Source: Agencies