NATO Decides To Start Handing Power To Afghans In November

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    NATO Decides To Start Handing Power To Afghans In November
    By LACHLAN CARMICHAEL

    Published: 23 Apr 2010 18:20


    TALLINN - NATO foreign ministers sealed a plan here Friday for U.S. and other powers in Afghanistan to begin handing over security and governing duties to Afghan provincial authorities by November.

    Nearly nine years after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan, the alliance endorsed guidelines for passing control to the Afghans as foreign forces step up efforts to drive a resurgent Taliban and al-Qaida from the provinces.

    "We agreed the approach we will take to transition," North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after two days of talks in the Estonian capital Tallinn.

    In the capital Kabul, the Afghans have already taken the lead in security, he said.

    "As of today, we have a roadmap that will lead towards transition to Afghan lead starting this year, at which point our publics will start to see the progress for which they have been quite rightly been asking," Rasmussen added.

    He said he hoped that the Afghan government and the international community would endorse the plan at a conference in Kabul in mid-July, with the transfer of duties starting by November, when NATO holds its next summit in Lisbon.

    Mark Sedwill, NATO's senior civilian representative in Afghanistan, said he expected Afghan local leaders to start assuming control in the more stable provinces stretching north and west from the Khyber Pass to Nimroz.

    NATO planners, he told reporters, are trying determine the conditions where the authorities are competent enough to take the lead in security and to provide good government service and economic development.

    "Gradually, as the transition goes through, you would expect them to build up and us to draw down," Sidwell said.

    Allied troops would pull back from front-line combat and play only a supporting role in preparation for an eventual pullout, he said.

    The conditions, which are still being worked on, will also seek to make sure that the Afghan authorities reflect the area's right ethnic and tribal mix, Sedwill said.

    The transition plan flows from the revamped strategy for Afghanistan that U.S. President Barack Obama announced in December when he ordered the deployment of 30,000 new troops to the country.

    Under the plan, he set July 2011 as the date for their drawdown to begin.

    However, Obama has repeated that the speed of the U.S. drawdown and departure from Afghanistan of U.S. and allied troops would be dictated by how successful they were in stabilizing the country and how quickly the Afghans can take over.

    The U.S. and some 10,000 allied reinforcements are joining 90,000 troops drawn from more than 40 nations.

    NATO is also pressing for 450 more trainers to build up the Afghan army and police - a key part of the plan to turn security over to the Afghans and have allied forces assume a supporting role before eventually withdrawing.

    Asked why it was so hard for other NATO members to come up with the numbers when Washington was deploying so many new troops, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters she was in fact "heartened" by allies' response.

    "We have a relatively small gap that we're still working to fill," the chief U.S. diplomat said.

    Not only did she expect the alliance to meet the numbers required but she hailed a broader spirit of cooperation.

    "I'm very encouraged by the close cooperation among countries and their forces, their military troops, their civilian experts, and I see everyday results of this much better coordinated approach," she added.

    NATO sees a troop pull-out as hinging on Afghans being able to provide their own security, promote economic development, and govern properly without tribal and ethnic rivalries sowing the seeds of renewed conflict.

    But, as casualties rise with the new troop surge, international forces are under growing pressure in Afghanistan and at home to leave.

    For this reason, Sedwill said, the foreign powers need to show people the Afghans are assuming control and the forces will eventually be able to leave.

    Success of the plan is "still far from certain," he acknowledged.

    "We will only really start to know toward the end of this year whether we are on track," Sedwill said.

    International troops have been in Afghanistan since late 2001, when a U.S.-led coalition ousted its hardline Islamist Taliban regime, along with its Al-Qaeda allies who carried out the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington.


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