NATO adopts transition plan for Afghan war
Saturday, November 20, 2010; 8:51 AM
LISBON -- The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan formally adopted a transition plan Saturday designed to turn over control of the war to Afghan security forces by 2014 but continue heavy financial and military support for the indefinite future.
"Here in Lisbon, we have launched the process by which the Afghan people will once again become masters in their own house," declared NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at a news conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai standing at his side.
After NATO and the 20 other nations in the coalition sealed agreement on the 2014 transition goal, Karzai and Rasmussen signed an accord instituting what was called the NATO-Afghanistan Partnership, essentially a guarantee that as foreign forces wind down their combat role over the next four years they will not abandon Karzai's government in its struggle against Taliban insurgents.
"We have to make sure we do not leave Afghanistan prematurely,"Rasmussen said.
The turnover is expected to begin as early as this spring, at least symbolically, and gradually spread across the country as Afghan security forces strengthen to about 300,000 and, with intensified coalition training, improve their ability to confront Taliban rebels without foreign help, NATO officials said.
Karzai expressed confidence that the Afghan security forces and civilian government institutions can assume their responsibilities by the new deadline. This, he said, is the ultimate answer to his recent complaints about civilian casualties and high-profile foreign military operations.
"As I stand before you today, we are moving in the direction of Afghan leadership, Afghan ownership," he said.
President Obama was scheduled to hold a rare bilateral meeting with Karzai following the coalition session. U.S.-Afghan relations hit a low point last week when Karzai criticized U.S. Special Operations attacks and called for foreign troops to reduce their footprint, seeming to disapprove of the surge in coalition attacks authorized by Obama.
Karzai, dressed in his trademark blue, green and gold robe, was surrounded by photographers and well-wishers as he entered the Saturday morning session. He took his chair beside Rasmussen without seeing Obama, who then rose from his own seat and walked over to shake the Afghan president's hand.
The Afghanistan meeting follows Friday's adoption of a new, 21st-century course for the 28-member NATO alliance that focused on antimissile defenses and fighting terrorism in Afghanistan and "around the globe." It pledged to seek an end to nuclear weapons but resolved to maintain its nuclear deterrent as long as such arms exist anywhere in the world.
White House officials, still smarting from foreign policy setbacks during the president's recent Asia trip, described the reset NATO Strategic Concept, along with expected approval Saturday of the Afghanistan plan, as a "full embrace" of Obama's international agenda, and the president described the alliance as "fully united."
On Friday night, Obama called on the Senate to follow NATO's lead and move toward immediate approval of the new nuclear arms-reduction treaty with Russia. He said leaders from across Europe had told him they support the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in statements that "could not be clearer."