NATO ministers have begun two-day talks focusing on plans for foreign troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.The ministers are seeking to fine-tune a program for the handover of security control to Afghan forces.
NATO foreign and defense ministers gathered in Brussels on Wednesday for two-day talks aimed at readying plans to pull international combat troops out of Afghanistan.
Top military and diplomatic officials must finalize a handover program to Afghan security forces and a support strategy ahead of a 2014 withdrawal deadline. The summit is to lay the foundations for a conference of NATO leaders scheduled to take place in Chicago in May.
Long-term funding for security in Afghanistan is a key issue to be resolved, with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen saying a figure of roughly $4 billion (3.06 billion euros) per year had been mentioned.
"At the Chicago summit we will get a clear picture of the commitment to financing the Afghan security forces," Rasmussen said, adding that it is less expensive to finance Afghan security forces than to keep foreign troops deployed. "I would expect NATO allies and ISAF (the International Security Assistance Force) to commit themselves to pay a fair share of the total bill."
Australia's early exit
The summit comes days after Australia announced it was moving up its own withdrawal deadline by one year to 2013 - a decision German Defense Minister Thomas de Maiziere said surprised him.
"My Australian colleague reported differently in February," he said. "But that can't deter us in our strategy to organize the withdrawal until the end of 2014."
The difficulties in ending the decade-long war were underscored by a bold Taliban onslaught over the weekend in the Afghan capital, Kabul. Some 51 people including 36 insurgents were killed on Sunday in a wave of coordinated attacks.
"Clearly we still face security challenges," NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said on Monday. "This was not the first such attack and I do not expect it to be the last… But such attacks don't change the transition strategy, they don't change the goal and they don't change the timeline that we all agreed to at the Lisbon summit in November 2010."
acb, ccp/mz (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)