AFGHAN forces should be leading security operations across the country by 2014, an international conference agreed yesterday, with the aim of relieving foreign troops in some areas by as soon as the end of the year.
The somewhat rosy picture assumes success by the 150,000 NATO-led foreign troops in an ongoing operation against the Taliban in their spiritual heartland, as well as in persuading thousands of insurgents to lay down their arms.
The current state of security, however, was starkly illustrated earlier in the day when a plane carrying United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the conference had to divert from Kabul airport to NATO’s Bagram airfield, 60km away, after an insurgent rocket attack.
Despite a massive security crackdown for the conference, which drew about 60 foreign ministers, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, insurgents landed at least five rockets near the airport and diplomatic area around midnight. They fell harmlessly, officials said.
The final communique from the gathering said the Afghan government would be given more responsibility for its own affairs — including security — in exchange for guarantees it will improve standards and accountability.
“Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) should lead and conduct military operations in all provinces by the end of 2014,” said the communique.
Lawmaker Daud Sultanzoi said the goal was “wishful thinking”.
“Looking at it from a realistic perspective it is a very good and necessary goal, but in terms of its practicality there are so many questions that have to be answered before we can really just stick to a timetable,” he said.
The US plans to start withdrawing troops from July next year, and Clinton told the conference that the target date underscored the urgency of transferring more security responsibility to the Afghan government.
“The July 2011 date captures both our sense of urgency and the strength of our resolve. The transition process is too important to push off indefinitely,” she said.
The Taliban have been emboldened by talk of transition timetables and convinced Washington is not committed to a drawn-out fight, they insist they will not stop fighting until all foreign forces leave.
The final communique said participants gave strong support for channelling at least 50% of development aid through the government within two years, from the current 20%.
More than $40 billion has been spent on Afghanistan since 2002, Oxfam says — around half towards training and equipping the army and police force.
“I remain determined that our Afghan national security forces will be responsible for all military and law enforcement operations throughout our country by 2014,” Karzai told the conference.
The communique said Karzai also won support for a peace plan that aims to win over and reintegrate an estimated 36,000 insurgent foot soldiers while exploring talks with moderate Taliban leaders.
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