Afghanistan withdrawal on track for 2014, NATO's Rasmussen says
The plan to withdraw all international combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 remains on track, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Thursday.
"Transition is based on conditions, not calendars. But I'm confident that we can complete our handover of security to the Afghans by the end of 2014," he said at the start of a meeting in Brussels of NATO defence ministers and other contributors to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan, DPA reported.
"That does not mean we're heading for the exit," he added. "Our commitment to Afghanistan will endure well beyond that through our long-term partnership."
German Defence Minister Thomas de Maiziere also dismissed concerns that the 2014 deadline would not be met. He said his country's soldiers would start withdrawing as planned at the end of this year and the beginning of the next.
"However, always based on assessments of how the situation evolves," he added. "Afterwards, there will be other forms of presence in and support for Afghanistan. We won't leave Afghanistan on its own."
The first batch of provinces are expected to be transferred to Afghan civilian control in July. US General David Petraeus, who commands ISAF's 132,000 troops, was expected to brief the ministers on the war effort in view of that deadline.
Belgian Defence Minister Pieter de Crem said Petraeus' report on the status of the fight against the Taliban would be key.
"Only afterwards can we talk about whether our timeline still is correct," he said.
Rasmussen noted that Afghan security forces are now 290,000-strong, including around 1,400 women.
"Every day, the Afghan security forces show that they are ready and apt to take over responsibility," he said.