NATO's secretary-general has insisted during a visit to Kabul that combat troops will remain in Afghanistan until late 2014. Afghan President Hamid Karzai said his forces would, however, be ready for an early withdrawal.
At a joint press conference in Kabul with visiting NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, President Karzai said not only would his country's forces be ready for take over full responsibility for security when international troops complete their withdrawal, but that they could do so even earlier.
"Afghans are ready to expedite the process of transition if necessary and willing," President Karzai said. "This is in all aspects good news for us and for NATO… The Afghan government is ready to take responsibility."
However, Rasmussen indicated that this would not be necessary despite the announced intention of Britain and France to pull their forces out of Afghanistan quicker than previously planned.
No early exit
"We are all committed to see our combat missions through by the end of 2014," Rasmussen told the same press conference. "The Afghan security forces have already achieved much. They are already in lead for security of three quarters of the population."
Rasmussen, who was on an unannounced visit to the Afghan capital, also reiterated the Western military alliance's intention to support the country with a second mission after all of NATO's combat forces have gone home.
"It will focus on training, advice, and assistance. And we are now actively planning for that," Rasmussen said.
NATO, which has fought an insurgency against Taliban Islamist fighters for more than a decade, currently has around 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. All of its combat troops are scheduled to leave the country by the end of 2014.
pfd/ipj (dpa, AFP, APE)