Nato nations formally agreed yesterday to start turning over Afghanistan’s security to its military next year and relinquish full control by 2014.
But the US and its allies appeared to disagree on when Nato combat operations would end.
The Nato secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said he did not expect its troops to stay in the fight against the Taliban after 2014.
“I do not foresee ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] troops in a combat role beyond 2014, provided of course that the security situation allows us to move into a more supportive role,” Mr Fogh Rasmussen said.
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs, said the UAE supported the transition of increasing responsibility to Afghan authorities.
“This meeting represents a momentous step for Afghanistan in its recent history.
“Entering this new phase is testimony to the progress made by Afghans throughout the country,” he said.
However, although President Barack Obama says he’s confident the US will be able to go ahead with its troop pull-out plan at the beginning of July 2011 an Obama administration official said the US had not committed to ending its combat mission at the end of 2014.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a decision on changing the US mission is not imminent because it is still unclear what the security needs and resources will be as the 2014 transition proceeds.
Each Nato member country will make an individual decision on when their combat mission will change, the official said.
The cautious US view may reflect a reluctance to forecast when combat will end so that the Taliban will not get the sense they can outlast their adversaries. It may also indicate less certainty that Afghans will be able to take control by 2014, and perhaps a greater eagerness among the Europeans to be done with combat.
The Taliban yesterday said that Nato was heading for defeat in Afghanistan. “It has become clear that after nine years of occupation, the invaders are doomed towards the same fate as those that tread this path before them,” the group said in an e-mailed statement.
Seeking to discount the apparent difference in views on combat beyond 2014, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that just because the US hasn’t decided to end its combat mission in 2014 doesn’t mean it couldn’t eventually do so.
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates suggested yesterday that a combat role for US forces in Afghanistan was unlikely beyond 2014, but he did not rule it out.
On Friday, Ivo Daalder, the US ambassador to Nato, told reporters that the 2014 goal and the end of Nato’s combat role in Afghanistan “are not one and the same.” But many Nato nations have insisted they will remove all their troops by 2014. British Foreign Secretary William Hague reiterated that his country will end its combat role by 2015.
“That is an absolute commitment and deadline for us,” the British news agency Press Association quoted him as saying.
Many Nato nations are discussing reducing the troops they have in Afghanistan before 2014, but the Nato agreement did not specify when troop reductions could begin.
“We’re asking only one thing: To do our job as for long as necessary, but then leave as soon as the minute comes when Afghans can take control of their own destiny,” said the French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
*The National Staff, with agencies