NATO sticks to 2014 Afghan pullout despite early French exit
BRUSSELS — NATO is committed to plans to withdraw combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014, the alliance chief said Monday after France decided to end its fighting role a year earlier.
“We stick to the roadmap that was outlined at the NATO summit in Lisbon in November 2010,” Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters at NATO headquarters after talks with Romanian President Traian Basescu.
Under the plan agreed by leaders of the 28-nation alliance in Lisbon, NATO began handing over security responsibility to Afghan forces last year with the goal of completing the transition by the end of 2014.
Rasmussen did not directly address French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s announcement on Friday that his country would bring his forces home next year after four unarmed French troops were killed by an Afghan soldier.
Sarkozy also said he would encourage NATO to consider transferring all its combat operations to Afghan forces in 2013, instead of the scheduled deadline of end-2014.
French Defence Minister Gerard Longuet is expected to explain his country’s decision at a meeting with NATO counterparts in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.
Rasmussen said NATO expects the final transition of provinces and districts to Afghan lead responsibility by mid-2013.
“From that time on we can gradually change the role of our forces from combat to support,” he said.
“The pace and the scope of that transformation of our forces will, of course, very much depend on the security situation on the ground.