No change on Afghan withdrawal plans, NATO says amid media flurry
NATO insisted on Tuesday that its plans for a 2014 withdrawal of foreign combat troops from Afghanistan had not changed, after Britain's Guardian newspaper reported the military alliance's chief had suggested so in an exclusive interview, dpa reported.
"Guardian quoted NATO Secretary General (Anders Fogh Rasmussen) out of context. No change in strategy or timeline," spokeswoman Oana Lungescu wrote on the micro-blogging website Twitter.
The Guardian story, which ran under the headline "NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan could be speeded up, says Rasmussen," was quickly picked up by other media.
In it, the NATO chief is quoted as saying that "from now until the end of 2014 you may see adaptation of our presence."
"Our troops can redeploy, take on other tasks, or even withdraw, or we can reduce the number of foreign troops," he said. "If the security situation allows, I would not exclude the possibility that in certain areas you could accelerate the process."
Lungescu argued that Rasmussen was referring to the "gradual drawdown" that has long been planned, since NATO troops can not be pulled out all at once at the end of 2014.
"Pace, scope in certain provinces depends on situation on ground," she said.
Lungescu also rejected the Guardian's suggestion of a link between withdrawals and a rise in attacks on foreign troops by Afghans in uniforms, which had already led NATO recently to temporarily restrict joint operations.
NATO has had to repeatedly assert this year that the timeline for the Afghanistan withdrawal has not changed, with statements by top US and Australian officials also being interpreted as suggesting an earlier end to combat operations.