Kabul Conference: NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2014?
'The Afghan National Security Forces should lead and conduct military operations in all provinces by the end of 2014,' says a leaked draft of the communiqué that foreign ministers at the Kabul conference are expected to sign Tuesday in Afghanistan.
Tuesday’s Kabul conference may hint at something that the United States and other sponsors of Afghanistan’s government have been dancing around for some time: A target date for ending what is already America’s longest running foreign war.Skip to next paragraph
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A draft of the communiqué that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and senior ministers from over 40 countries are expected to sign Tuesday was leaked to the British newspaper The Independent. It says the “international community” supports the notion that “the Afghan National Security Forces should lead and conduct military operations in all provinces by the end of 2014.”
While the language could well be altered or dropped by the end of Tuesday's conference, the draft is a reflection of the growing unease over the war among many members of the NATO coalition in Afghanistan.
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters on Monday that he supported the 2014 target and that Germany wants a “perspective for a withdrawal” to come out of the conference. British Defence Secretary Liam Fox told the BBC that his nation’s combat troops will likely be out of the country by then as well.
A controversial issue
But the issue of setting a timetable for an international withdrawal from Afghanistan has been a controversial one since President Obama said in his West Point speech last December that he’d like US combat troops to start to withdraw by August of 2011.
Critics lashed out almost immediately then that a timetable gave heart to the Taliban, effectively signaling that they could simply hunker down and outlast the international community.
That’s a position that members of President Hamid Karzai’s government have expressed as well. But the target date of 2014 – which would likely begin, all going well, with the transfer of security control to Afghan authorities In some areas as soon as next year – appears to represent a position that they can live with.