|Lalit K Jha,
Washington, May 21 - NATO today endorsed plans to hand over to Afghan forces the complete responsibility of security in the war-torn country by 2013 as the military alliance gradually transitions in its role from combat to training before their final withdrawal in 2014.
The declaration that came today at the Chicago Summit of the 28 NATO members also endorsed the ongoing efforts to achieve a political solution through reconciliation talks with the Taliban.
"We are gradually and responsibly drawing down our forces to complete the ISAF mission by 31 December 2014," the declaration said after member countries discussed at length the future of Afghanistan and their own role in it.
"By mid-2013... the ANSF will be in the lead for security nationwide," said the member countries.
According to their endorsement, the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) will then start shifting from a primarily combat role to assume the responsibility of providing training, advice and assistance to the Afghan National Security Force (ANSF).
"ISAF will be able to ensure that the Afghans have the support they need as they adjust to their new increased responsibility," they said.
NATO's Chicago Declaration said they have taken further important steps on the road to a stable and secure Afghanistan and to their goal of preventing the country from again becoming a safe haven for terrorists that threaten Afghanistan, the region, and the world.
The irreversible transition of full security responsibility from ISAF to ANSF is on track for completion by the end of 2014, as agreed at their Lisbon Summit, it said.
"We also recognise in this context the importance of a comprehensive approach and continued improvements in governance and development, as well as a political process involving successful reconciliation and reintegration.
"We welcome the announcement by President Karzai on the third tranche of provinces that will start transition," NATO said.
The Chicago Summit Declaration said by the end of 2014, when the Afghan authorities will have full security responsibility, the NATO-led combat mission will end.
However, it will continue to provide strong and long-term political and practical support "through our Enduring Partnership with Afghanistan".
NATO is ready to work towards establishing, at the request of Afghanistan, a new post-2014 mission of a different nature in Afghanistan, to train, advise and assist the ANSF, including the Afghan Special Operations Forces.
"This will not be a combat mission. We task the Council to begin immediately work on the military planning process for the post-ISAF mission," it said.
Noting that at the Bonn Conference held in December, the international community made a commitment to support Afghanistan in its Transformation Decade beyond 2014, the declaration said NATO will play its part alongside other actors in building sufficient and sustainable Afghan forces capable of providing security for their own country.
"In this context, Allies welcome contributions and reaffirm their strong commitment to contribute to the financial sustainment of the ANSF," it said.
NATO leaders asserted that the forthcoming elections must be conducted with full respect for Afghan sovereignty and in accordance with the Afghan Constitution.
Their transparency, inclusivity and credibility will also be of paramount importance.
Continued progress towards these goals will encourage NATO nations to further provide their support up to and beyond 2014, they said.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that by the end of 2014, Afghan forces will be fully in charge of security operations throughout the country and noted that the alliance's commitment to the war-torn country is for the long term.
"By the end of 2014, Afghan forces will be fully in charge of security operations throughout the country. Our current mission will be completed, but our commitment is for the long-term," Rasmussen said in his opening remarks.
This is the largest gathering of world leaders for Afghanistan at a NATO Summit, which is being attended by more than 60 leaders from NATO and ISAF partner nations, as well as Russia, Japan and Central Asian countries.
They are being joined by heads of international organisations, including the United Nations, the European Union and the World Bank.
Flanked by the host Barack Obama, the US president, and the Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Rasmussen said in the course of next year, they expect to see Afghan security forces in the lead for combat operations across the country, which he said will be a significant marker towards completing the journey of transition.
"As the Afghan forces step up, our forces will step back into a supporting role, focusing on training, advising and assisting our Afghan partners," Rasmussen said.
During the conference, Rasmussen said nations are also expected to reaffirm their commitment to the long-term financial sustainment of the Afghan National Security Forces.
A number of NATO and ISAF partners have already made pledges to help meet those costs.
"From 2015, we expect to maintain a NATO-led presence to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces. And NATO and ISAF nations will also pay their fair share to help sustain the army and police Afghanistan needs for the future," he said. PTI