Afghan handover could run past 2015 in areas: NATO

Wed Nov 17, 2010 3:52pm EST
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By Ian Simpson

KABUL (Reuters) - The handover from NATO-led forces to Afghans should start in the first half of 2011 but poor security in some areas could see it run past a 2014 target, a NATO official said on Wednesday before an important summit.

With attention focusing on the security transition from foreign forces to Afghans over the next four years, newly appointed French Defense Minister Alain Juppe called Afghanistan "a trap for all the parties involved.

Afghanistan will be among the priorities for North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) leaders when an annual summit begins on Friday, with the pace and scope of troop withdrawals at the top of their agenda.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has made 2014 the target for Afghan forces to assume full security responsibility from foreign forces, with Washington planning to begin a gradual drawdown of its forces from July 2011.

Others doubt enough Afghan forces will be ready in time to meet Karzai's target, but U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have called it realistic.

The 2014 target is part of a wider plan by Karzai that includes talks with Taliban-led insurgents, reintegration and reconciliation and the ramping up of the Afghan security forces to enable the transition.

"We expect that the transition process will start in the first half of 2011," said Mark Sedwill, the top civilian NATO representative in Afghanistan.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban were ousted in 2001, and NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who will chair this week's summit, said on Monday there was no alternative to military operations to force the Taliban toward a political solution.   Continued...

<p>A U.S. Marine waits in the moonlight for a helicopter to transport them home for leave from Musa Qala in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, November 16, 2010. REUTERS/Finbarr O'Reilly</p>