NATO and coalition leaders meet to set Afghan handover dates
Fifty world leaders from NATO and its allies in Afghanistan met in Lisbon on Saturday for a summit designed to set the date for foreign troops to start pulling out of the front line in the fight against the Taliban, DPA reported.
NATO's 28 members and another 20 countries ranging from Australia to South Korea have committed troops to the fight in Afghanistan, but they are now desperate to start bringing them home.
The leaders of the 131,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are expected to announce that they will begin "transition" - pulling their troops out of the front line to let the Afghan forces fight - by July 2011 and hope to end it in 2014.
"I find it realistic to fulfil the goal of handing over lead responsibility for security to the Afghan security forces by the end of 2014," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a press conference on Friday, the first day of the summit.
At the same time, they are expected to promise their support to the regime of Afghan President Hamid Karzai beyond 2014, primarily by providing further training and support to Afghan forces and by boosting economic and administrative development.
Karzai was also due to attend the summit.
"NATO allies, ISAF partners and the Afghan government will work to align our approach on Afghanistan, particularly in two areas: our transition to full Afghan lead between 2011 and 2014, and the long- term partnership that we're building in Afghanistan," US President Barack Obama said late Friday.
NATO has already trained some 150,000 Afghan soldiers and paramilitary police, and hopes to double that figure by October next year. Ahead of the summit, NATO diplomats said that the alliance would need some 900 more trainers to do the job.
Canada has now offered an estimated 700 troops to the training mission. However, diplomats said that they would largely be dedicated to basic training in and around Kabul, meaning that NATO would probably need more than 200 trainers in other parts of the country to fully staff the mission.
In a sign of the alliance's partnership with civilian players, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and EU leaders Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso were also set to join the summit.