Nato maps out Afghanistan withdrawal by 2014 at Lisbon summit

Alliance leaders meet with Hamid Karzai to discuss handover of security but pledge not to simply leave country to its fate

Ian Traynor

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, arrives for the Lisbon Nato  summit
Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, arrives for the Lisbon Nato summit discussing foreign forces’ withdrawal from the country. Photograph: Paulo Novais/EPA

Nato leaders today set a deadline of the end of 2014 for a halt to combat operations in Afghanistan, agreeing on an exit strategy to extricate the vast majority of the 138,000 international troops waging an increasingly unpopular war.
A summit of Nato leaders in Lisbon, attended by Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, and Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, agreed on a “transition strategy” for Afghanistan which is to phase in the handover of the country’s provinces to Afghan security forces from next year, completing the shift within four years.
But while David Cameron and his ministers insisted that 2015 was a “clear deadline” for an end to UK combat operations and the pullout of most British forces, Nato and UN leaders were much more guarded.
“We will not transition until our partners are ready,” said Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Nato secretary general. “We will stay to finish the job … The process must be conditions-based, not calendar-based. We have to make sure we don’t leave Afghanistan prematurely.”
Ban added: “We must be guided by reality, not schedules.”
Nato leaders stressed that nine years into the war on the Taliban and al-Qaida, things were going well despite the high level of casualties. Some 650 coalition forces have been killed this year, by far the highest rate of deaths since the war began in late 2001 – 40% up on last year and double the rate of two years ago.
Karzai used the meeting with Obama and western leaders to complain about night raids on Afghan homes and villages and about civilians deaths from US air attacks.
Despite the friction between Karzai and the Americans, sources said that Obama was sympathetic and supportive of the Afghan leader.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, by contrast, told Karzai pointedly that the Nato attacks had to continue in order to produce results.
“We all want to reduce civilian casualties, but we need to keep the pressure on,” she told the summit, according to witnesses. “Our publics would be concerned to learn that our troops are not welcomed by the Afghan people.”
Nato leaders emphasised that Afghan army and police forces are now at a level of more than 260,000, growing to more than 300,000 next year and that the international forces will be able to gradually pull out, leaving behind training missions which will not engage in combat.

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