Afghanistan is aiming to take over security and military responsibilities from international forces by 2014, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told delegates to a one-day summit on the country's future in Kabul on Tuesday.
Karzai wants Afghans in charge of Afghan security
Afghan President Hamid Karzai opened an international conference on the future of Afghanistan by saying his country aims to assume control of its own security within four years.
"I remain determined that our Afghan national security forces will be responsible for all military and law enforcement operations throughout our country by 2014," Karzai told delegates from 70 nations, including 40 foreign ministers, who had assembled in Kabul for the one-day summit, the first ever of its kind on Afghan territory.
The final communique by participants of the conference - which is to focus on corruption, development and security - backed Karzai's target to assume responsibility from the estimated 140,000 US and NATO troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Rasmussen says NATO troops will play a supporting role
Speaking on the sidelines of the conference, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told public broadcaster ARD that the handover of security responsibilities should take place in 2014, adding that this was the "self-imposed goal" of the Afghan leader.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in response to Karzai's security pledge, said that Kabul's plans were "comprehensive" and that US forces would begin pulling out of Afghanistan in July, 2011.
"[This] date captures both our sense of urgency and the strength of our resolve," Clinton said. "The transition process is too important to push off indefinitely. But this date is the start of a new phase, not the end of our involvement."
NATO supporting role
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, meanwhile, said any withdrawal of international forces should be based on the situation on the ground, and not on any calendar date.
"What we are speaking about is a gradual process where we hand over lead responsibility to the Afghans when conditions permit, and the word 'condition' is very important because this process must be conditions-based and not calendar-driven," he said.
Karzai wants foreign aid funnelled through the government
"And when it happens, international forces won't leave - they will simply move into a supporting role," he said, adding: "We have not come this far, at this cost, to falter just as we see our common goal take shape."
British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking from Washington where he was visiting US President Barack Obama, said the four-year target was realistic.
The conference communique also restated support for calls by Karzai for the international community to channel at least 50 percent of development aid to the country through the Afghan government.
"Our systems are strong and improving, and we are committed to working with donors to give them the confidence needed to channel resources through the Afghan budget," Karzai said earlier.
Over $40 billion (30.8 billion euros) has been spent on Afghanistan since 2002, according to humanitarian organization Oxfam. Around half of this sum went towards training and equipping the Afghan army and police force.
Author: Darren Mara (AFP/Reuters)
Editor: Rob Turner