(CNSNews.com) – At the NATO summit beginning Friday the United States will endorse turning over security responsibilities in Afghanistan to Afghan forces by the end of 2014--but also commit to “an enduring longer-term commitment,” President Obama’s “war czar” said this week.
During a conference call press briefing Tuesday previewing the NATO summit in Lisbon, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, Obama’s special assistant for Afghanistan and Pakistan, spoke about transitioning security tasks to Afghan forces by 2014.
“Based on conditions on the ground and as a result of the surge in international resources over the last year it is possible now to begin a responsible transition to Afghan security lead across the 34 provinces in Afghanistan,” he said.
Lute went on to say the process of withdrawing coalition forces from Afghanistan and transitioning the security lead over to Afghan forces would last more than three years, from 2011 to the end of 2014, adding that NATO would maintain a long-lasting relationship with Afghanistan.
“The goal, however, that President [Hamid] Karzai enunciated and the international community endorsed in Kabul in July is that this process across the 34 provinces will aim to be completed by the end of 2014,” he said. “So it’s a process that begins in early 2011 with the target of completion at the end of 2014.”
”Now, in order – during this process – to reassure the Afghans that as they stand up, they will not have to stand alone, NATO is expected to endorse a enduring partnership with Afghanistan, and in particular a partnership that sees NATO sustaining its commitment to the development of Afghan national security forces,” Lute added.
This indication that some coalition forces are likely to be deployed in Afghanistan even beyond the end of 2014 concurs with remarks made by the commander of the NATO training mission in Afghanistan, U.S. Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, on Nov. 9.
Caldwell told CNSNews then that while Afghan forces were expected to be operating “in the lead” by the end of 2014, that did not mean they would be doing so independent of U.S.-led coalition forces.
CNSNews had asked Caldwell, “Will the Afghan forces be able to operate independently and handle their own security by 2014?”
He responded, “I think key here is they’re talking about December 31st, 2014. It’s the end of December in 2014 when they’re talking about that, President Karzai has said they want Afghan security forces in the lead.
“It doesn’t mean that there will still not be coalition forces here in support of them but, the primary lead for security in this country must have been established with the Afghan security forces in the lead by the end of 2014.”
“The answer to that question is yes,” Caldwell continued. “We fully support and endorse and, in fact, by all accounts believe that we can in fact achieve that and have the Afghan security forces in the lead by the end of 2014.”
Last December, Obama said that depending on ground conditions, U.S. forces would begin withdrawing from Afghanistan in July 2011, a date he described as marking the beginning of a responsible transition of security tasks to Afghan forces.
Critics of the July 2011 withdrawal date have said it sends a negative signal about the U.S. commitment to stabilizing Afghanistan, and will allow the enemy to go into hiding and wait for U.S.-led coalition forces to vacate Afghanistan.
Obama will attend the NATO summit on Friday and Saturday in the Portuguese capital where the alliance leaders are expected to give support for a turnover of security tasks in Afghanistan to Afghan forces by 2014.
“We are viewing this Lisbon summit as a strategic milestone for the ongoing mission in Afghanistan, during which we expect to highlight two mutually-supporting themes,” Lute said in this week's briefing.
“The first theme is an announcement having to do with the beginning of a responsible transition to Afghan leadership – that is, putting Afghans in the lead across Afghanistan for their own security.
“And the second theme is an announcement having to do with an enduring longer-term commitment by NATO to Afghanistan’s security and in particular to the development of its security forces,” he added.