Afghan exit tops Nato summit agenda

Leaders meeting in Lisbon discuss plans to hand over military command in Afghanistan to local government by 2014.

Karzai, who joined the Nato summit in Lisbon on Saturday, has called for a reduction in US military operations [AFP]

Nato leaders are meeting in the Portuguese capital to thrash out a plan to pass security responsibilities in Afghanistan to the Kabul government by 2014.

The summit is being attended by leaders from the 28 Nato allies, 20 other nations that fight alongside them in the Isaf military force, Japan, a big cash donor, and Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general.

“The direction starting today is clear towards Afghan leadership and Afghan ownership,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato secretary-general, said as he opened the gathering of allied heads of state and government on Saturday.

“That is the vision [Afghan] President [Hamid] Karzai has set out. It is a vision we share and we will make a reality starting early next year.”

“Success matters as much to us as it does to the Afghan people, which is why we will agree here today a long-term partnership between Nato and Afghanistan, to endure beyond the end of our combat mission.”

Rasmussen further said “if the enemies of Afghanistan have the idea that they can wait it out until we leave they have the wrong idea. We will stay as long as it takes to finish the job”.

Karzai joined his sponsors in Lisbon to map out an exit strategy for 150,000 Nato-led troops, despite an open row over tactics that has left thousands civilians dead.

He surprised many of his allies this week by urging the US to scale down military operations and by sharply criticising special forces’ night raids on Afghan homes.

Obama’s timetable

Earlier, the US president outlined on Saturday his proposed timetable for pulling out the bulk of US forces from Afghanistan and handing control to local commanders.

Al Jazeera’s Neave Barker reports from Moscow

“I look forward to working with our … partners as we move towards a new phase, transition to Afghan responsibility, which begins in 2011, with Afghan forces taking the lead on security across Afghanistan by 2014,” Barack Obama said.

Alliance officials insist the transition to Afghan control is not a rush to the exit, but the war is deeply unpopular in Europe and cash-strapped governments are under pressure from voters to bring soldiers home.

Nevertheless, Obama hopes to convince his European allies to send more troops to train Afghan security forces, which have been plagued by desertion and corruption.

Portugal, the summit’s host, said it would like to send 40 more trainers.

This year has been the deadliest for Nato forces and Afghan civilians. Another foreign soldier on Friday fell to an Afghan bomb attack, taking the toll for the year to 654.

The number of Afghans killed in the conflict rose by a third in the first six months of 2010 to 1,271, with most deaths caused by Taliban and al-Qaeda attacks, the UN reported in August.

Russian co-operation

The alliance will hold a separate meeting with Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, later on Saturday to strike a new co-operation deal on Afghanistan.

Russia has co-operated with Nato on Afghanistan by allowing alliance supplies to transit through its territory and providing counter-narcotics training to Afghan officials outside Moscow.

Nato, which has faced fierce attacks by pro-Taliban groups on fuel vehicles on Pakistani roads, wants Russia to allow equipment in and out of Afghanistan and expand the list of permitted goods to include armoured vehicles.

Russia has so far only allowed a one-way transit of non-lethal Nato supplies by train to Afghanistan.

Weapons would still not be permitted under a new deal, Nato officials said.

Source: News Agencies


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