NATO has announced a new phase of its operation in Afghanistan – a transition period in which combat troops will withdraw by 2015, handing over control of Afghan security to Afghan forces.
Under a deal signed with Afghan President, Hamid Karzai at a NATO summit in Portugal, the Alliance will then remain in the country to continue training locals.
NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: “Trainers are the ticket to transition. President Karzai and I have signed an agreement on a long term partnership between NATO and Afghanistan that will endure beyond our combat mission. To put it simply 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.”
The deal suits Karzai who has made it clear he wants to see less foreign troops in Afghanistan and NATO members including many European states – keen to see their troops back from an increasingly bloody and unpopular conflict.
Yves Leterme, caretaker prime minister of Belgium which currently holds the EU’s rotating presidency which said: “I think it is clear that in future the international community’s effort will be much less military than civil, focusing on the reconstruction of the country.
We must not fixate on a date. It is important to have a calendar but it is just as important to see what the results of our efforts are on the ground.
By not setting a date for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, NATO is sending a very clear message to the Taliban: transition does not mean retreat.