Province by province handover is expected to complete in four years
NATO embraced a target date set by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to hand security to Afghan forces by the end of 2014, more than 13 years after the war began.
President Barack Obama and leaders of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization said the alliance’s 130,000 troops will “stay as long as it takes to finish our job,” though a province by province handover should be completed in about four years, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters with Karzai today at an alliance summit in Lisbon.
Rasmussen said: “We have launched a process in which the Afghan people will again become masters in their own house, I’m confident that we can meet the 2014 deadline primarily because we see a rapid growth in the capacity and the quality of the Afghan security forces.”
US and NATO forces led by General David Petraeus intensified a surge against the Taliban insurgency this year on the back of 30,000 fresh American troops, spurring an increase in violence that caused friction with Karzai’s government.
Rasmussen said under a NATO accord signed with Karzai, NATO will maintain a presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014.
Rasmussed said: “If the Taliban or anyone else aims to wait us out, they can forget it, we will stay as long as it takes to finish our job.”
NATO led forces have claimed gains in areas in the south such as Kandahar on the Pakistan border before starting to transfer power to Afghan forces in the first half of 2011. Meanwhile, the Afghan government is making overtures to Taliban guerrilla leaders to give up their fight.
Karzai told the Washington Post last week that the US must reduce its presence on Afghan roads and in homes, particularly night raids conducted by special operations forces. While Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said night raids by US forces in Afghanistan remain a “key component” of larger military operations, Rasmussen said the “thrust” of Karzai’s position was in accord with NATO’s transfer plans.
“Afghanistan’s difficulties and Afghanistan’s conditions, the reality on the ground in other words was substantially understood and agreed upon by our partners” today, Karzai said. “I hope that as we move forward, that these difficulties will go away.”
The target date for shifting security to Afghan commanders was introduced last year by Karzai, who said he wanted the government in Kabul to control the country by the end of his second term. Karzai was reelected last year in a vote that was marred by widespread fraud.
The alliance will announce several provinces in the first half of next year where they will begin the transition process, which for a majority of regions is likely to take between 18 to 24 months, a NATO official told reporters yesterday.