NATO: Afghan Security Forces to Take Combat Lead by 2013World | February 2, 2012, Thursday // 19:10| views
front row (L-R) NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and British Defense Secretary Philip Hammond stand during a family photo at the NATO Defence ministers meeting at the Nato headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, 0
NATO wants Afghan forces to take full responsibility for their country's security by mid-2013 so that the military alliance can wrap up its mission the following year as planned, Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has stated.
"We expect the last provinces to be handed over to the Afghan security forces by mid-2013," he told reporters ahead of a meeting with NATO Defense Ministers in Brussels.
"From that time, 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 added, as cited by DPA.
German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere said that international combat troops will be "withdrawn incrementally" through the end of 2014, depending on how the situation in the country and the transition process evolve.
De Maiziere was among those defence ministers who rejected suggestions that the alliance was accelerating the end of its operations by setting the 2013 date.
US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta assured reporters on his flight to Brussels that NATO's ensuing "train-and-assist role" would still involve 'providing a great deal of support and assistance to the Afghan army.
"Everybody assumed that there would come a time, as we move towards the end of 2014, that we would be transitioning that role. We couldn't just kind of go right to the end ... with our combat role," he said, according to a transcript provided by the Pentagon.
De Maiziere, meanwhile, described the change as NATO-led international soldiers simply moving "from the driver's seat to the passenger seat."
"There is a difference between fighting in the driver's seat or, as a foot soldier, helping others who fight," he said. "We're sticking with a 2014 end of the mission."
NATO Defense Ministers will discuss the support Afghan security forces should receive in the long term, ahead of a NATO summit in May at which leaders will 'make clear NATO's commitment to Afghanistan beyond 2014,' spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said.
'We are well aware that it's expensive to sustain a force and that the Afghan economy will not in and of itself be sufficient to do that,' said a senior NATO official, who asked not to be named.
Other items on the ministers' agenda include the strained situation in Kosovo, the 'smart defense' concept NATO is pursuing in the face of budget cuts in its member countries, and the military alliance's plan to set up a European missile defense system.
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