Transition - NATO's slow ticket home from Afghanistan
NATO and allied leaders at a summit in Lisbon on Saturday agreed that "transition" in Afghanistan - the handover to Afghan leadership on security issues - would begin next year, DPA reported.
WHAT IS TRANSITION?
Over 130,000 NATO and allied troops currently serve in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.
Afghan and ISAF soldiers are fighting side by side against Taliban-linked insurgents, and facing mounting losses. The Afghan forces are already capable of planning and leading combat operations, but are still being guided and mentored by ISAF forces.
The next step is therefore for them to take sole responsibility for security in their command areas, planning and carrying out long-term strategy as well as fighting missions, while ISAF troops pull out of the front line.
NATO has labelled the process the Inteqal Framework, after the Dari and Pashtun word for "transition".
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
Because the Afghan war, now nine years old, is deeply unpopular in Western nations, and the public there wants ISAF troops to come home.
HOW WILL IT WORK IN PRACTICE?
ISAF commanders in Afghanistan will decide, based on an analysis of various criteria, that a certain province, district or city is sufficiently secure, and local government sufficiently strong, for the Afghans to take over running it.
They will then hand over responsibility to the local authorities and pull ISAF's troops out of the front line.
SO DOES TRANSITION MEAN ISAF TROOPS COMING HOME?
Only very slowly. NATO officials say that some of the troops pulled out of the front line in one district could be sent to combat operations in another area. Others would be sent to train Afghan forces. Only some might be sent home.
Moreover, ISAF troops would be expected to provide back-up, such as air cover, for Afghan soldiers even after transition has ended.
DOES AFGHANISTAN HAVE THE TROOPS TO TAKE OVER?
Not yet. ISAF is currently putting together a training mission capable of turning out the numbers required.
The current target is for the Afghan national army and police combined to total just over 300,000 men by October 2011. By the time of the opening of the summit, ISAF forces had trained 260,000 soldiers and police in total.
WHAT ARE THE CONDITIONS FOR HANDOVER?
According to NATO officials, handover will only begin if the Afghan forces in a given area can tackle both existing and expected future threats; if the Afghan authorities in the area are capable of providing basic and transparent governance; and if the area in question has a viable and sustainable economy.
CAN THE AFGHANS HANDLE IT?
That is the key question. ISAF's efforts are geared towards making sure that they will be able to, but independent experts question how effective those efforts are.
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE?
The first areas are expected to hand over early next year. ISAF hopes to end the process in 2014.