Starting next year, Nato will begin pulling troops out of Afghanistan, and in 2014 responsibility for security will be handed over to Afghan forces, the alliance has said after a two-day summit in Lisbon.
Nato leaders met behind closed doors in order to decide on an exit strategy from Afghanistan. The plan was endorsed on Saturday, the final day of the summit.
During the meeting, where Nato’s secretary-general Anders Fogh Ramussen (photo, from lemde.fr), US president Barack Obama, his Afghan counterpart Hamid Karzai, and UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon, were present, They also discussed the best way to prepare Afghan forces for the handover.
“We have launched the process by which the Afghan people will once again become masters in their own house,” Rasmussen told a news conference following a summit. “The aim is for Afghan forces to be in the lead countrywide by the end of 2014.”
However Rasmussen said Nato would not abandon Afghanistan after the handover : “We will stay after transition in a supporting role, “ he said. “President Karzai and I have signed an agreement on a long-term partnership between Nato and Afghanistan that will endure beyond our combat mission,” he added.
“To put it simply, if the Taliban or anyone else aim to wait us out, they can forget it. We will stay as long at it takes to finish our job,” he said.
Nato plan looks a lot like a proposed timetable put forward by Obama earlier on Saturday.
“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,” the US president said.
But a note of caution was expressed in the press conference by Ban Ki-Moon who told reporters that “there is no short-cut to peace,” saying decisions should be made based on “realities” not “schedules”.
2010 is already the deadliest year for Nato forces and Afghan civilians. On Friday a bomb killed another foreign soldier, which took the toll to 654 for the year.
And in the first six months of this year, the number of Afghans killed in the conflict rose by a third, to 1,271, with most deaths caused by Taliban and al-Qaeda attacks, the UN reported in August.
On Saturday, the alliance is to hold a separate meeting with Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, in order to strike a new co-operation deal on Afghanistan.
Russia is already co-operating with Nato on Afghanistan by allowing alliance supplies to transit through its territory and providing counter-narcotics training to Afghan officials outside Moscow.
But after facing attacks by pro-Taliban groups on fuel vehicles on Pakistani roads, Nato wants Russia to allow equipment in and out of Afghanistan and expand the list of permitted goods to include armoured vehicles.
So far, Moscow only allowed a one-way transit of non-lethal Nato supplies by train to Afghanistan. Nato officials said that a new deal would still not permit weapons.