NATO eyes 2013 as key date in Afghan transition
BRUSSELS / ISLAMABAD
Panetta (L) and Rasmussen talk during a NATO meeting in Brussels. AP photoNATO’s top official joined the U.S. and France yesterday in calling for Afghan forces to take the lead in all combat operations by mid-2013, while continuing to assist them in fighting the Taliban.
Both U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have suggested in recent days that the coalition should gradually transition out of combat in 2013. Government forces are supposed to assume responsibility for the war at the end of 2014, when the coalition is expected to end its participation in the war.
Ahead of two days of talks among NATO defense ministers, Anders Fogh Rasmussen said transition to Afghan security control, which started last year, will continue through mid-2013 with the Afghan army and police gradually taking the lead in all regions of the country. “From that time Afghan security forces are in the lead all over Afghanistan. And from that time, the role of our troops will gradually change from combat to support,” he said. This process will conclude at the end of 2014, when government forces are scheduled to assume full responsibility for security in the entire country, Rasmussen said.
Pakistan willing to push Taliban to make peace
Panetta had indicated Feb. 1 that NATO would “transition from a combat role to a train and advise and assist role” by the end of 2013. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s foreign minister said yesterday that the country would be willing to push the Taliban and their allies to make peace if asked to do so by the Afghan government, an action seen as key to the reconciliation process. “We’re willing to do whatever the Afghans want or expect,” Hinna Rabbani Khar said.
Khar said full-fledged peace talks were still “miles away” and could only begin once the Afghan government determined how the process should be structured. Khar visited Afghanistan Feb. 1 in an attempt to repair relations and discuss Taliban reconciliation.