Early withdrawal claims by NATO are 'misleading,' says top commander

A recent article quoting NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen was "at best misleading ... at worst mischievous," British Lt. Gen. Adrian Bradshaw, deputy commander at International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said Wednesday. 

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In an interview with the British newspaper The Guardian, Rasmussen implied that alliance commanders were considering a quicker drawdown of NATO forces from Southwest Asia. 

"From now until the end of 2014 you may see adaptation of our presence. Our troops can redeploy, take on other tasks, or even withdraw, or we can reduce the number of foreign troops," Rasmussen said during the interview, published Monday. 

"If the security situation allows, I would not exclude the possibility that in certain areas you could accelerate the process," Rasmussen added. 

However, European alliance members in the coalition force have no plans to break from the withdrawal strategy drafted two years ago at NATO's annual summit in Lisbon, Spain, according to Bradshaw. 

"There is no change to that [plan]," Bradshaw told reporters at the Pentagon during Tuesday's briefing from ISAF headquarters in Kabul. 

DOD press secretary George Little reiterated that point a day earlier, when asked if the NATO chief was considering an early departure of European troops from Afghanistan. 

"The secretary-general is, in fact, committed to the timeline that we're all working toward," Little said during Tuesday's press conference, saying Rasmussen's comments were taken out of context. 

"There is absolutely no daylight" between U.S. and NATO commanders on adhering to the 2014 pullout plan, he added. 

That said, Bradshaw did not discount the fact that coalition commanders could shift around portions of the NATO withdrawal plan to compensate for changes in the security environment in Afghanistan. 

"There will be minor adjustments across the battle space" as U.S. and coalition troops take a back seat to Afghan-led forces in day-to-day operations, Bradshaw said. 

But until the administration's 2014 deadline arrives, "there will be no change to the [withdrawal] strategy," he added. 

NATO leaders on Wednesday approved plans to extend Rasmussen's mandate as Secretary General through 2014.