NATO nations have approved a plan to start pulling out front-line troops in Afghanistan early in 2011. However, forces will remain in the most dangerous areas until 2014, and likely stay in a supporting role beyond then.
Front-line troops will begin to withdraw in early 2011
A timeline for the gradual withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan has been negotiated by NATO nations during a meeting in Lisbon.
The Western allies met with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai to discuss an exit strategy for the 150,000-strong force.
According to an internal NATO document, the nations approved a plan to start pulling out troops in early 2011, with the first provinces expected to pass to Afghan control by July.
However, combat forces are expected to remain in control of the most dangerous areas until 2014, and stay in a supporting role well beyond that date.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said they would not abandon Afghanistan in its fight against the Taliban.
Karzai wants the handover completed by the end of 2014
"If the enemies of Afghanistan have the idea that they can just wait it out until we leave, they have the wrong idea. We will stay as long as it takes to finish our job," Rasmussen said.
He added the idea is that the Afghan government takes control of the country district by district. This meant that not all of the 150,000 foreign troops now deployed in Afghanistan would leave by the 2014 deadline.
Rasmussen said the relationship between NATO and Afghanistan would be "a long-term partnership."
Wrangling on the EU budget
Meanwhile, on the sidelines of the NATO Lisbon summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy to discuss the failed EU budget for 2011.
The deadline for securing the budget for the coming year was missed due to a standoff between the European Parliament and the governments of the 27 member states.
The three leaders came together on Friday evening to work out a new proposal for the budget, which could be adopted at the next EU summit in mid-December. The proposal suggests a rise in the budget of around 3 percent, to take it to 123 billion euros ($168.4 billion).
Under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty, if a new budget is not finalized, the budget is frozen at 2010 levels, which will threaten the development of new projects such as the European External Action Service.
Author: Catherine Bolsover (dpa, Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Martin Kuebler