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NATO: Pullout target ‘not guaranteed’
Extension likely in some areas
It was the latest indication that the U.S.-led military operation in Afghanistan will remain sizable well into the next decade, despite plans to draw down troops and transfer responsibility to the Afghan government.
“It’s a goal,” he told reporters in the capital. “It’s realistic but not guaranteed.”
U.S. officials have said the handover will start early next year and run through the end of 2014 under a plan set for approval at a NATO summit this weekend in Portugal. Handovers, beginning with a few relatively safe provinces, would hinge on the rearrangement and eventual withdrawal of U.S. and other NATO forces.
The 2014 option has been discussed for some time. But this week’s announcements mark the first time officials will outline concrete steps to meet the goal of transferring power in all 34 Afghan provinces within the next four years.
Both the Afghan government and NATO nations have said they’re committed to making the transition happen, but they’ve been hampered this year by increasing violence, with NATO deaths climbing and insurgents expanding attacks to previously peaceful areas in the north and west.
Mr. Sedwill said the transition to Afghan control of security will be slow and piecemeal — often starting with individual districts and building up to the province level. Each area will be evaluated for transfer based on four criteria — the security situation, the capacity of Afghan security forces in the area, the preparations of NATO forces and the progress toward governance reforms.
As districts are secured, the majority of NATO troops there will be moved to more volatile areas or turned into trainers, with only a few going home, he said. The idea is that most NATO forces should be trainers or advisers by 2014.
Yet NATO forces may continue to hold some areas years after the 2014 benchmark passes, he said.
“There might still be one or two parts of the country where the transition process is ongoing, and that might last into 2015 or beyond,” Mr. Sedwill said. “This is the point about 2014, it’s not an end of mission. It’s not even a complete change of mission, but it is an inflection point where the balance of the mission would have shifted.”
Two-thirds of all enemy-initiated attacks occur in three provinces — Kandahar and Helmand in the south and Kunar in the northeast, so those areas will likely be the last to be handed over, NATO officials have said, with 10 Afghan districts accounting for 50 percent of all the violence.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, French Defense Minister Alain Juppe described Afghanistan as a “trap” for allied troops. He said in a radio interview with Europe-1 that France had no intention of keeping troops in Afghanistan indefinitely but would not fully withdraw until “Afghan authorities have the situation in hand.”
© Copyright 2013 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
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