NATO to embrace pivot to Afghanistan support role in 2013
CHICAGO, May 21 − Western leaders gathering this weekend to define their path out of Afghanistan will announce a pivot in the NATO mission next year, formally putting Afghan soldiers in charge of combat operations across the country, US and NATO officials said yesterday.
The leaders are expected to endorse a US decision − telegraphed by the Pentagon earlier this year − to shift foreign troops to a support role in mid-2013.
“The milestone that we believe the leaders will consider tomorrow and that we anticipate that they will approve is a midway mile marker that marks a point in transition from NATO lead to Afghan lead,” said Doug Lute, special assistant to President Barack Obama for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said “by the middle of 2013, we expect the Afghan forces to be taking the lead for security right across the country.”
While foreign forces will continue to fight the Taliban and other militants as necessary − and it may be very necessary − the new mission for US and NATO troops will assume a new focus on advising and supporting Afghan soldiers.
The move is the latest step in what US officials say is a steady military transition out of Afghanistan.
The White House, looking toward November elections, is seeking to dispel notions at this weekend’s talks in President Barack Obama‘s home town that Western nations are rushing for the exits in Afghanistan.
It is a hard sell given the sharp fiscal pressures on nations fighting in Afghanistan and the emerging fissures with countries such as France that have embraced a quicker exit.
Under a plan agreed at their last summit in 2010, NATO nations said they would gradually transition out of Afghanistan by the end of 2014, meaning Afghanistan’s inexperienced military will then spearhead the fight against Taliban insurgents.
While the expected announcement would confirm statements made earlier this year by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, it underscores the eagerness of Western nations to disentangle themselves from a war that has lost much public support.
Obama foreshadowed the announcement during a middle-of-the-night visit this month to Kabul, where he signed a bilateral deal outlining the future US presence in Afghanistan.
Obama said NATO would “set a goal for Afghan forces to be in the lead for combat operations” nationally in 2013. − Reuters