NATO: Afghans can start taking security control next year

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Tuesday expressed confidence that allied troops will be able to start a gradual hand-over of security responsibilities to the Afghan government next year.

Rasmussen told reporters in Washington that the start of that transition would be announced at the November NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal.

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The NATO secretary general stressed that the transition to Afghan security forces will be based on ground conditions, but indicated that he believes security in that country has improved enough for the allied forces to start handing off responsibilities.

Rasmussen’s statements fall in line with President Obama’s plan to start withdrawing some U.S. troops in July 2011. Rasmussen, however, said he cannot give a specific date for the start of the transition. He added that Obama’s July 2011 date “fits neatly into this concept.”

The head of NATO also said that the alliance supports the Afghanistan president’s “ambition” for domestic forces to take the lead in security operations by the end of 2014.

While he said it is “helpful to have that roadmap,” Rasmussen cautioned a hand-over of lead responsibilities to the Afghan forces does not mean an “exit” for the international forces.

He said NATO will never allow the Taliban to take power again in Afghanistan.

“We will not leave until we have finished our job,” Rasmussen said at a breakfast with defense reporters in Washington ahead of his White House meeting with Obama.

Rasmussen cautioned that allied forces are approaching “tough times” in their Afghanistan mission, but he expressed “optimism” that they would succeed.

The war in Afghanistan will enter its ninth year in October, and Rasmussen said that NATO has had the “wrong assessment of the magnitude of challenges” that Afghanistan poses. The alliance also did not realize that Afghanistan did not require just a military solution, he said.

The new strategy in place “can work” and “is working” but will take time and endurance, Rasmussen said.