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Afghanistan plan

April 23, 2010

Ministers have agreed on a NATO plan for the gradual handover of security responsibilities in Afghanistan to Afghan forces. Earlier in the talks, ministers discussed the withdrawal of nuclear weapons from Europe.

German soldiers training Afghan troops
Training Afghan troops remains a key NATO responsibilityImage: picture-alliance / dpa

NATO ministers agreed on conditions for handing over security responsibilities in Afghanistan to Afghan forces this year.

The alliance stressed that the transition would be gradual and that it would depend on the conditions being fulfilled rather than a timetable.

"It will not be a pullout. It will not be a run for the exit," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told a news conference on Friday after the meeting of foreign ministers in the Estonian capital Tallinn.

Rasmussen stressed there was a need for allies to provide more personnel to train Afghan forces. "What will happen is that we hand over lead responsibility to the Afghans and our soldiers will then move into a more supportive role," he said.

NATO foreign ministers at their gathering in the Estonian capital, Tallinn
The mission in Afghanistan is under the spotlightImage: AP

Rasmussen added, "I foresee that the Afghan security forces will need our supportive assistance for quite some time so it will be a gradual process."

Reducing number of soldiers

The handing over of responsibilities is important if NATO is to reduce its troop commitment - which currently stands at more than 120,000 - in the country. With more than 4,000 troops, Germany has the third largest military contingent in Afghanistan behind the United States and Great Britain.

The first day of talks on Thursday was dominated by discussions about the US stockpile of nuclear weapons in Europe. Differences emerged between the United States and some European politicians such as Germany's Guido Westerwelle, who thinks the weapons are a legacy of the Cold War.

"My personal view is: the presence of American nuclear weapons in Europe is an essential part of a credible nuclear deterrent," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after the ministers' first round of talks.

The 28-member organization is currently rethinking its entire strategy, and is set to establish a new official doctrine at a summit in November.

Relic of the Cold War

It is thought there are between 160 and 240 US 'battlefield nukes' stored in states across Europe, including Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey and Norway.

Westerwelle has insisted that Germany wants to see the US withdraw its nuclear weapons, arguing that there was no need for them after the Cold War.

The withdrawal of those weapons would be "a peace dividend, for Germans as well as everyone else," Westerwelle said. He added that the current moment was "a window of opportunity for disarmament."

Atomic rocket blasting off
It is thought there are around 200 US warheads in EuropeImage: AP

However, the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said a reduction of US military weapons in Europe could only be considered if there were a parallel agreement with Russia.

Analysts estimate there are around 4,000 Russian tactical nuclear warheads stockpiled in Europe.

"In any future reductions, our aim should be to seek Russian agreement to increase transparency on non-strategic nuclear weapons in Europe, [and] relocate these weapons away from the territory of NATO members," Clinton said in a dinner speech to NATO colleagues.

Other states supporting Germany's withdrawal stance include Poland and Norway.

All ministers agreed that no nuclear weapons would be withdrawn from Europe without the unanimous agreement of all 28 NATO nations

Editor: Nicole Goebel