NATO to mull accelerated withdrawal from combat in Afghanistan

BRUSSELS, Belgium — NATO’s top official joined the U.S. and France on Thursday in calling for Afghan forces to take the lead in all combat operations by mid-2013, a year earlier than originally expected, while Western troops would shift to back up roles in the fight against the Taliban.

BRUSSELS, Belgium — NATO’s top official joined the U.S. and France on Thursday in calling for Afghan forces to take the lead in all combat operations by mid-2013, a year earlier than originally expected, while Western troops would shift to back up roles in the fight against the Taliban.

Both U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have suggested in recent days that the coalition should gradually transition out of combat in 2013.

In 2010, NATO leaders agreed that Afghan forces would take control province by province until they have full responsibility for security in all of Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Until now, it was widely assumed that coalition troops would retain the lead role in military operations until that final handover.

But under the arrangement being discussed by NATO defence ministers in Brussels this week, coalition troops would no longer lead combat missions after mid- to late-2013, although they would still provide assistance to the Afghans.

Although some officials insisted publicly that the allies were united in the transition goals, a senior NATO official told reporters that there is some disagreement about the newly suggested timeframe.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss closed-door discussions, said the expectation is that no final decision on the timing is expected before the NATO summit in Chicago in May.

Speaking to reporters before the two-day meeting in Brussels, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Afghanistan remains the alliance’s top operational priority, and that the coalition has been making progress in the war.

He said transition to Afghan security control, which started last year, will continue through mid-2013 with the Afghan army and police gradually taking the lead in all regions of the country.

“From that time the Afghan security forces are in the lead all over Afghanistan, and from that time the role of our troops will gradually change from combat to support,” he said.

This process will conclude at the end of 2014, when most Western forces would withdraw, Fogh Rasmussen said. The allies are working on the details of a longterm partnership with Afghanistan, he said.

“But Afghans will not be left alone at the end of the transition process. We are committed to providing support to Afghanistan through transition and beyond,” Fogh Rasmussen said.

British Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said the allies were united on transition.

“We are actually all in the same place. We all recognized that in 2013 there will be an evolution of the mission, the Afghans will be having the lead responsibility for the security throughout the whole country,” he said. “But we will remain there in the combat support role and we will continue to do so, in our case, until the end of 2014, and the USA has indicated that it may go longer than that.”

Speaking to reporters on the flight to Brussels, Panetta said: “Hopefully by the mid to latter part of 2013 we’ll be able to make a transition from a combat role to a training, advise and assist role.”

He added that this “doesn’t mean we’re not going to be combat-ready,” but rather that the U.S. and other international forces will no longer be in “the formal combat role we’re in now.”

Some Republicans in the U.S. Congress complained that Panetta was sending the wrong signal to the Taliban. But in congressional testimony in Washington on Thursday, David Petraeus, the CIA director who previously was the top American commander in Afghanistan, said Panetta’s comments had been “over-analyzed.”

Petraeus said it is obvious that if the 2010 goal of putting Afghans fully in control of their own security is to be achieved by the end of 2014, then the final phase of that process would have to start sometime in 2013. “The idea is that we gradually stop leading combat operations,” he said.

The ministerial meeting comes a day after a secret NATO report was leaked to the media suggesting that insurgent morale remains extremely high after more than a decade of war and that the Taliban remain confident they will defeat the coalition.

It also follows a series of attacks by members of Afghan forces on NATO troops or advisers. The repeated attacks have prompted worries about the degree of Taliban infiltration in the ranks of the national army and police, as they rapidly expand to meet the 2014 target for Afghan forces to take over security and most international troops to leave.

There have been at least 35 attacks on international troops since 2007 by Afghan soldiers, police or insurgents wearing their uniforms, according to a tally by The Associated Press. The number rose sharply last year to 17, up from six in 2010.

The ministerial meeting is intended to pave the way for the alliance’s Chicago summit. Ministers are also scheduled to discuss plans to deploy a ballistic missile defence system in Europe and maintaining the alliance’s capabilities at a time of austerity and defence cuts in both the United States and Europe.

A NATO diplomat said the allies had decided to locate the headquarters for the missile shield at a U.S. air base in Ramstein, Germany.

———

Associated Press writer David Stringer in London contributed to this report.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer RCMP say a 30-year-old man faces sexual charges against a teen. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Innisfail RCMP arrest man following ‘lengthy pursuit’

Innisfail RCMP say a “lengthy pursuit” through a rural area ended with… Continue reading

Red Deer South MLA Jason Stephan speaks in the Alberta Legislature on Wednesday in this image from his Facebook page.
Red Deer MLA Jason Stephan sounds off on socialism in anti-lockdown speech

Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan has applauded his government’s COVID-19 response, saying… Continue reading

(Photo by Paul Cowley/ Advocate Staff)
Mask bylaws not popular in rural areas

Red Deer and Blackfalds bylaws requiring masks in public places kick in on Monday

A GoFundMe campaign to support a Stettler couple following a fire has raised more than $3,000. (Contributed photo)
Family pet dies in Stettler fire

GoFundMe page has raised more than $3K so far

Canadian Olympic gymnast and National Sport School alumni Kyle Shewfelt announces his retirement in Calgary, Thursday, May 21, 2009. Calgary's board of education will close the National Sport School that has produced Olympic and Paralympic champions for 26 years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Calgary’s National Sport School to close, looks to join a different school division

Calgary’s National Sport School to close, looks to join a different school division

Canada's Erica Wiebe, left, celebrates after defeating Nigeria's Blessing Onyebuchi, right on the ground, to win Gold medal in women's FS 76Kg wrestling at the Commonwealth Games on Gold Coast, Australia, Thursday, April 12, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Manish Swarup
Canada’s Olympic champion wrestler Erica Wiebe eyes return to competition

Canada’s Olympic champion wrestler Erica Wiebe eyes return to competition

Louisiana-Lafayette running back Elijah Mitchell (15) is tackled by Coastal Carolina linebacker Enock Makonzo (43) and safety Cameron Mitchell (49) during the first half of an NCAA football game in Lafayette, La., Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. It's already been a season to remember but Canadian Enock Makonzo and the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers will chase two more firsts Saturday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Paul Kieu
Canadian Enock Makonzo, Chanticleers chase Sun Belt East regular-season crown

Canadian Enock Makonzo, Chanticleers chase Sun Belt East regular-season crown

Atlanta United's Mo Adams, right, challenges Toronto FC's Alejandro Pozuelo during first half MLS soccer action in East Hartford, Conn., Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020. Toronto FC's Alejandro Pozuelo says he finished the season with an injured leg. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Jessica Hill
Toronto FC ready to refocus on future as long, hard season comes to an end

Toronto FC ready to refocus on future as long, hard season comes to an end

Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu and Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart speak to the media during a visit to the Molson Overdose Prevention Site in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Thursday, January 16, 2020. City councillors in Vancouver voted unanimously this week to ask federal officials for an exemption to Canada's Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, a decision advocates hope will blaze a trail for the decriminalization of small amounts of illicit drugs for personal use in other municipalities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Advocates aim to shape ‘Vancouver model’ for drug decriminalization

Advocates aim to shape ‘Vancouver model’ for drug decriminalization

Senator Murray Sinclair appears before the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples in Ottawa, Tuesday, May 28, 2019. Sinclair is planning to leave the Senate early next year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Sen. Murray Sinclair, former head of TRC, set to leave the upper chamber next January

Sen. Murray Sinclair, former head of TRC, set to leave the upper chamber next January

Carolina De La Torre, right, owner of Arepas Ranch in Calgary, poses for a photo with her husband in this undated handout photo. The Venezuelan woman who believes she was used as part of Jason Kenney's argument not to lockdown restaurants in the province remembers her encounter with the premier as a lot less dramatic than he suggested. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Carolina De La Torre *MANDATORY CREDIT*
‘No crying’: Venezuelan refugee Kenney cited says interaction was less dramatic

‘No crying’: Venezuelan refugee Kenney cited says interaction was less dramatic

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question from a reporter during a bi-weekly news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau feels most Canadians could be vaccinated by September 2021

Trudeau feels most Canadians could be vaccinated by September 2021

Most Read