By Jeremy Herb
NATO’s secretary general said Monday that the timeline for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in 2014 has not been altered after France said Friday it would withdraw its troops earlier.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at a press conference Monday that the goal remains to finish handing off security of the country to the Afghans by the end of 2014.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy announced Friday that his country would withdraw its troops by the end of 2013, which was announced a week after four French soldiers were killed by an Afghan soldier last week.
Sarkozy also said that he and Afghan President Hamid Karzai would urge NATO to push up its date to 2013 to hand off control of security to the Afghans.
Rasmussen said there wasn’t a plan to make that change, though he added that the transition of control to the Afghans will begin in mid-2013.
“Afghanistan is moving in the right direction,” he said Monday. “Transition to Afghan security lead is on schedule and is making steady progress.”
Rasmussen said that “the pace and scope” of the transition will depend on the security situation on the ground. “The better the security the stronger the Afghan Security Forces the more rapidly we can transform the role of our forces,” he said.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Friday that the French decision was made on a national level, and that the rest of the NATO countries in Afghanistan would work with it.
“We obviously want to continue to work together to ensure that this is implemented in a way that is consistent with the efforts of all of NATO to give increasing authority to the Afghans and that it is smooth,” Nuland said. “But what we are gratified by is that this was not precipitous, that this was worked through carefully with NATO, with the Afghans, and in consultation with all of us.”