NATO: Turnover pro­ceed­ing well

Afghanistan forces close to tak­ing over se­cu­rity for 75% of na­tion

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY SLO­BO­DAN LE­KIC AND

MONS, BEL­GIUM | Afghan forces soon will start tak­ing charge of se­cu­rity for three-quar­ters of the na­tion’s 28 mil­lion peo­ple, NATO’S top mil­i­tary com­man­der said Wed­nes­day, a mile­stone as the coun­try as­sumes the lead for pro­tect­ing the ma­jor­ity of its pop­u­la­tion.

Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis also in­sisted that train­ing of the Afghan army and po­lice is pro­ceed­ing very well de­spite at­tacks in which Afghan sol­diers have turned their weapons on their U.S. and NATO part­ners.

“Very shortly we will an­nounce fur­ther tran­si­tion that will en­com­pass 75 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion,” Adm. Stavridis said in an in­ter­view with the As­so­ci­ated Press.

He did not elab­o­rate on the ex­act tim­ing of the an­nounce­ment.

NATO lead­ers are sched­uled to meet in Chicago in May to map out a strat­egy to sup­port the Afghan se­cu­rity forces af­ter the with­drawal of most al­lied troops at the end of 2014. NATO forces al­ready have handed over au­thor­ity for about half the pop­u­la­tion, in­clud­ing the cap­i­tal, in the first two tranches of a tran­si­tion that started last year.

This is the first public pre­dic­tion that, af­ter the third phase oc­curs, Afghan se­cu­rity forces will be as­sum­ing the lead for pro­tect­ing the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion.

The war has been in­creas­ingly un­pop­u­lar in both the United States and Europe, where gov­ern­ments are fo­cused on cut­ting de­fense ex­pen­di­tures as part of wider aus­ter­ity mea­sures.

The NATO train­ing mis­sion has been hit hard re­cently by a se­ries of at­tacks by mem­bers of the Afghan se­cu­rity forces.

Last month, a gun­man killed two se­nior U.S. mil­i­tary ad­vis­ers in­volved in the train­ing pro­gram in an at­tack in­side the In­te­rior Min­istry in Kabul. The Tal­iban has claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the killings, say­ing it was in re­tal­i­a­tion for the burn­ing of Ko­rans at a U.S. base.

Adm. Stavridis said the tar­get of more than 350,000 se­cu­rity force mem­bers will be achieved this sum­mer, sev­eral months ahead of plans.

“The strat­egy is sound and is pro­vid­ing re­sults,” he said. “I [ex­pect] good per­for­mance from the Afghan Na­tional Army [af­ter 2014] . . . they are a very proud army, led by ex­pe­ri­enced combat of­fi­cers.”

The process of tran­si­tion­ing to Afghan lead­er­ship was ac­cel­er­ated last year.

In­stead of a six-stage process, the plan was changed to achieve the tran­si­tion in five steps, with the last start­ing as early as mid-2013 in­stead of 2014 — when most NATO troops are sched­uled to de­part Afghanistan.

The is­sues of long-term fund­ing for the force — es­ti­mated at more than $4 bil­lion a year — and how con­tri­bu­tions will be di­vided be­tween coali­tion mem­bers and other donors re­main un­re­solved.

“It’s im­por­tant that all . . . [In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity As­sis­tance Force] na­tions and other na­tions in­volved in in­ter­na­tional ef­fort con­trib­ute to Afghan se­cu­rity forces post 2014,” Adm. Stavridis said.

Adm. Stavridis, the first Navy ad­mi­ral to serve as NATO’S supreme com­man­der, is part of the mil­i­tary and po­lit­i­cal team as­sem­bled by Pres­i­dent Obama to con­duct the war. The group in­cludes An­ders Fogh Ras­mussen, NATO’S civil­ian chief.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Navy Adm. James G. Stavridis, NATO’S top mil­i­tary com­man­der, says the ex­pec­ta­tion of hav­ing more than 350,000 Afghan se­cu­rity force mem­bers in ser­vice by sum­mer puts the turnover ahead of sched­ule.

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