NATO plans gradual handoff to Afghans

U.S. Marine Major-General Richard Mills during an Afghan police graduation ceremony at a US Marine base in Helmand on April 18.

U.S. Marine Major-General Richard Mills during an Afghan police graduation ceremony at a US Marine base in Helmand on April 18.   | Photo Credit: MAURICIO LIMA

Setting the stage for a gradual withdrawal from Afghanistan, the United States and other NATO countries adopted a plan in Tallinn, Estonia, on Friday that sets conditions for beginning to remove troops from a lead role in Afghan provinces by the end of this year.

The plan, which NATO hopes to turn into a formal agreement with the Afghan government in July, would transfer authority to Afghans when they have met three criteria: a competent local police force, a durable civilian government and signs of reconciliation with the Taliban insurgency.

NATO's goal is to announce in November that it has begun to hand over authority in a cluster of provinces, most likely in Afghanistan's relatively stable north and west, officials said. If successful, the plan would help President Barack Obama meet his deadline of starting to pull out American troops by July 2011. But American officials cautioned that the timetable could slip if security remained poor or if the insurgents proved resilient.

At a meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers in Tallinn, the alliance received an update on the progress in the war from General Stanley A. McChrystal, the top military commander in Afghanistan, and Ambassador Mark Sedwill, NATO's recently appointed senior civilian representative.

As the American-led coalition prepares for its next big operation, in the southern Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, Mr. Sedwill said it had learned valuable lessons from the recent campaign to stabilise Marja — namely, achieving a rough balance of power among competing tribal groups is critical to restoring order. The Marja campaign, he said, had been hampered because some landowners amassed so much power that they had co-opted the local police force, transforming it into a militia used against the people. “The big lesson we learned in Marja, which we're taking to Kandahar, is that you got to get the politics right,” Mr. Sedwill told reporters. “Balanced access to political and economic power is vital.”

A former British ambassador to Afghanistan, Mr. Sedwill has emerged as a major figure in the western effort in the country. Since his arrival, the United States has stopped calling for the appointment of a high-level coordinator who would function as a civilian counterpart to General McChrystal.

NATOs progress report was welcomed here, since the emphasis in many war-weary alliance members has shifted from the combat mission to turning Afghanistan back its own people.

Still, the Danish Secretary-General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, pledged that foreign troops would continue to support Afghan soldiers long after they relinquished command. “It will not be a pullout; it will not be a run for the exit,” he said at a news conference.

NATOs commitment to the war has come under question in recent weeks. The alliance has fallen 450 people short of a goal to supply 2,000 trainers for the Afghan national police force by October. Afghanistan wants to expand its police force to 134,000 by October 2011, from 103,000 now. “The gap matters,” Mr. Sedwill said. “We've got 100,000 troops there; we ought to be able to find 450.”

The shortfall has been whittled down steadily, Mr. Rasmussen said, with Canada pledging to send 90 additional trainers. He said he was confident that NATO would be able to staff its training mission fully. The United States still supplies the large majority of police trainers. — New York Times News Service

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2020 5:31:54 PM |

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