NATO wants big pullout from Afghanistan by end-2014

NATO wants big pullout from Afghanistan by end-2014
# 19 November 2010 20:12 (UTC +04:00)
Baku – APA. The head of NATO said on Friday the alliance would start turning security over to Afghan forces next year under a plan NATO officials say will allow for substantial troop withdrawals by the end of 2014, APA reports quoting “Reuters”.
Some NATO and Pentagon officials have expressed doubt that the 2014 deadline can be achieved because of the rising threat posed by Taliban insurgents to Afghanistan’s weak government.
But NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said before the start of a two-day summit in Lisbon that the 28-nation alliance was committed to the target date, and would leave a smaller staff to train the Afghan forces.
U.S. President Barack Obama, who will have talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai during the summit on Saturday, backed the decision to start the security handover in 2011 and called for moves toward a reconciliation with the Taliban.
"We will announce that the transition to lead Afghan responsibility (for security) is about to start in 2011," Rasmussen said after talks with Portugal’s president.
"We hope this process will be completed by the end of 2014 so that the Afghan security forces can take responsibility all over Afghanistan."
NATO leaders will formally announce the exit strategy during the summit, hoping to draw a line under a war seen as going badly for the United States and its allies.
The leaders will also approve a new 10-year vision for NATO, underscoring the need to be ready for similar missions in the future, and are expected to extend a missile defense system. They also hope talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Saturday will improve ties with former Cold War enemy Moscow.
The U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan began in response to the September 11, 2001, attacks. The United States and its allies invaded to overthrow the then-ruling Taliban, who had refused to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
Now in its 10th year, the war has become a political headache for Obama. More than 2,200 foreign troops have been killed. Obama now talks openly of reconciliation with the Taliban.
"America and our NATO allies strongly support a ... process that seeks reintegration into society of those Taliban who agree on some main points: they have to abandon violence, break their ties with al Qaeda and agree to live under the rules of the Afghan Constitution," Obama told Spain’s El Pais newspaper.
The withdrawal strategy hinges on efforts to build up Afghan forces so they can contain the widening insurgency, with a target strength set at more than 300,000 by the end of 2011.
But this has been hampered by high desertion rates and the Kabul government is widely regarded as too corrupt, unstable and inept to survive long without foreign military support.
The Pentagon said on Thursday the 2014 withdrawal date was only "aspirational" and may not be achievable everywhere.
Mark Sedwill, NATO’s top civilian representative in Kabul, said this week that poor security in some areas could push back the pull-out date and Afghanistan could face "eye-watering levels of violence by Western standards.
But he told reporters in Lisbon that it was hard to predict the timing, and conditions in Afghanistan might even allow for a faster withdrawal than foreseen.
"2014 is a goal, not a guarantee ... but we think that goal’s realistic and we’ve made plans to achieve it, but of course if circumstances agree it could be sooner," he said.
He said it was not clear how many troops would be withdrawn by the end of 2014, but it would be "pretty substantial."
Despite NATO’s difficulties in Afghanistan, where a perceived failure would undermine its prestige, alliance leaders will recommit to a global military role when they adopt a new Strategic Concept for the coming decade at the Lisbon summit.
But military analysts say the Afghan experience and pressure on military spending since the global financial crisis have eroded enthusiasm for operations in non-NATO countries.