NATO member nations have extended the mandate of the alliance's Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen until July 2014. The timing allows him to oversee planning of combat troop withdrawals from Afghanistan.
NATO does not intend to complete that withdrawal until the end of 2014. But, on Wednesday the former Danish premier told reporters in Brussels that his departure a few months ahead of that deadline was "appropriate."
Whoever succeeds Rasmussen in August that year will have the task of handing over security control to Afghan forces and providing a subsequent NATO training mission.
"August 1, 2014 is an appropriate time to change leadership so that a new secretary general can oversee the implementation of the new (training) mission we will establish in Afghanistan from 2015," Rasmussen said.
One-year extension customary
Ambassadors of the 28 NATO nations said in a NATO statement issued on Wednesday that they had opted to extend Rasmussen's term.
NATO chiefs are appointed for four years, but extensions are customary.
"Allies will support Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in his dedicated work to carry forward NATO's tasks, missions and objectives," the ambassadors on the military alliance's North Atlantic Council said.
Potential successors have not clearly emerged, but one possibility mentioned is former Italian foreign minister Franco Frattini.
Rasmussen has led the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since 2009, when he took over from Jaap de Hoop Scheffer of the Netherlands.
Rasmussen highlights Libya
During his press briefing on Wednesday, Rasmassen highlighted NATO efforts to develop a European missile defense system and last year's aerial campaign over Libya, which contributed to the fall of the late strongman Muammar Gadhafi.
In Afghanistan on Monday, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) resumed most operations alongside Afghan military counterparts after a spate of so-called "insider" attacks.
So far this year, at least 52 members of ISAF have been killed in attacks carried out by gunmen wearing Afghan police and army uniforms.
Last Monday, Rasmussen conceded that these attacks had "undermined trust and confidence" between foreign and Afghan forces.
Those remarks coincided with a suicide bomb attack in the eastern Afghan city of Khost, where 14 people, including three NATO soldiers and four Afghan police officers, were killed. Responsibility was claimed by Taliban insurgents. Dozens of other people were injured.
NATO defense ministers are expected to devise a "broad framework" for their intended post-2014 training mission for Afghanistan at a meeting in Brussels on October 9 and 10.
ipj/rc (Reuters, dpa, AP)