Afghans set ambitious 2014 security target

KABUL, (Reuters) – Afghan forces should be leading  security operations throughout their country by 2014, an  international conference said yesterday, and they should be  aiming to take over from foreign troops in some areas this  year.

The ambitious deadline will rely heavily on the success of  some 150,000 foreign troops in a continuing operation against  the Taliban in its spiritual southern heartland, as well as on  enticing thousands of insurgents to lay down arms.

It also depends on how fast foreign troops are able to  train and equip their local counterparts, the difficulty of  which was underscored on Tuesday when an Afghan soldier killed  two U.S. civilians and one of his own comrades in northern  Mazar-i-Sharif.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s flight to the  conference was diverted to NATO’s Bagram airfield following an  insurgent rocket attack, illustrating the reality of security  elsewhere.

“As it turned out, the rocket attack was little more than a  serious attempt to disrupt our sleep,” Swedish Foreign Minister  Carl Bildt, on the same flight, wrote in his blog.

Despite a massive security crackdown for the conference,  which drew about 60 foreign ministers including U.S. Secretary  of State Hillary Clinton, insurgents managed to land at least  five rockets near the airport and diplomatic area.

The final statement from the gathering said the Afghan  government would be given more responsibility for its own  affairs — including security — in exchange for guarantees it  will improve standards and accountability.

“Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) should lead and  conduct military operations in all provinces by the end of  2014,” the communique said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the Afghans  had set out their own plans but needed to enact them.

“I have said to their ministers, individually and  collectively, that it’s now very important to implement these  plans,” he told reporters after the conference.

That goal was laudable, lawmaker Daud Sultanzoi said.

“Looking at it from a realistic perspective it is a very  good and necessary goal but in terms of its practicality there  are so many questions that have to be answered before we can  really just stick to a timetable,” he told Reuters.

The United States plans to start withdrawing troops from  Afghanistan in July 2011. Clinton told the conference that  target date underscored the urgency of transferring more  security responsibility to the Afghan government.

“The July 2011 date captures both our sense of urgency and  the strength of our resolve,” she said. “The transition process  is too important to push off indefinitely.”

The Taliban have been emboldened by talk of transition  timetables, convinced Washington is not committed to a  drawn-out fight and insisting they will not stop fighting until  all foreign forces leave.

KARZAI TRIUMPH?

Afghan President Hamid Karzai will see the conference as a  triumph after a year in which he lost favor in the West over a  disputed election, complaints about his government’s competence  and a half-brother’s alleged shady business dealings.

In Washington, both U.S. President Barack Obama and British  Prime Minister David Cameron touted the importance of the  conference as a step toward handing over security  responsibilities to the Afghans.

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