Even with serious questions about President Hamid Karzai's commitment to the military strategy in Afghanistan, NATO members plan to announce an enduring presence there beyond 2014, the new target date for handing off security control to the Afghans.
At its weekend summit, NATO members will tout a three-year plan to
transfer security responsibilities by 2014 to the Afghans, beginning early next
year on a phased, conditions-based timeline, NATO officials told CNN.
NATO members plan to offer a message of reassurance to Afghanistan that
the alliance will remain engaged after security control is transferred to
Afghan forces. NATO will endorse an "enduring partnership" with Afghanistan,
specifically focused on developing Afghan security forces and police, officials
Canada has already committed more than 900 personnel to train Afghan
security forces, and other nations, including the Netherlands, are expected to
But many troops from other nations will deploy to Afghanistan in
noncombat roles, leaving more of the fight to the U.S. and British contingents.
U.S. President Barack Obama's challenge will be to urge wary NATO allies
to stay the course in Afghanistan despite mixed results, growing public
frustration, and the beginning of a drawdown of U.S. troops next summer, U.S.
Observers of the Afghan war said they will be keenly focused on Day 2 of
the summit, Saturday, when Karzai is set to address the 48 NATO partners who
make up the International Security Assistance Force.
Afghan officials said Karzai will seek specifics on how Afghans will work
with NATO forces during the transfer of power. Karzai favors a joint command
structure that would include the Afghan military.
The pivotal NATO summit comes amid heightened tensions between Karzai and
In an interview with the Washington Post published on Sunday, Karzai was
critical of the U.S. military and called for a reduced U.S. military role. He
said U.S. raids on insurgent targets at night were counterproductive and
incited support for the Taliban.
Rankled by those comments, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, U.S.
Gen. David Petraeus, said Karzai's remarks could undermine the war effort. He
warned the U.S.-Afghan partnership could be "untenable" if Karzai wants U.S.
troops out of Afghanistan prematurely.
The two men met Wednesday to try and defuse tensions.
Afghan officials said Karzai supports the raids on insurgents but faces
intense pressure from the Afghan public, which has protested civilian deaths.
He is also balancing the fight against the insurgency with a desire for
political settlement, the officials said.
U.S. officials explained Karzai's comments as being in line with NATO's
announcement at the summit on the transfer of control.
"We read President Karzai's interview as a call for an Afghanistan that
eventually is stable, fully sovereign and self-reliant. And in that call, we
have a lot in common," said Doug Lute, the special assistant to the president
for Afghanistan and Pakistan.
"We're talking mostly a difference of timelines," Lute told reporters
Tuesday. "It's a question of whether you're reading President Karzai's call for
immediate changes or whether he's talking about changes which we all eventually want to see together."
But other Western officials have voiced concern that Karzai is
undermining the war effort at a time that NATO-led forces are regaining
momentum against the Taliban.
Ambassador Mark Sedwill, NATO's senior civilian representative in
Afghanistan, said Wednesday that coalition forces have "regained the
initiative" in the war, but said Karzai's remarks were "not helpful" in the
lead-up to the Lisbon summit.
"We have different perspectives, and it would be much better if we worked
out those different perspectives in private," Sedwill said in Kabul.
One senior European official said he hoped NATO members would have a
"genuine" discussion about Karzai's continued public criticism of the NATO
strategy. The official did not wish to be named in order to speak more frankly.
"Yes, we all share the goals he states, but at the moment, we are here
because of a United Nations mandate, and we need to explain that Afghanistan is
not fully sovereign and we are still in a transition and he has to support
that, not undermine it. The West is getting confusing signals and President
Karzai has to be confronted that this does damage to his cause."
Stephanie Sanok, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies, said she expects some sort of statement from Karzai to
be issued at the end of the summit. His criticism, she said, ultimately
contradicts NATO's strategy and he may have to set the record straight.
"At the end of the day, the night raids have been successful," she said.
"Ending them is really not an option. What I don't understand is what Karzai
hoped to gain by those comments."
Several Western officials said results on the battlefield were improving,
but not the capability of the Afghan government, which has come under fire in
the past for being corrupt and inept.
They said NATO allies need to intensify their engagement with the
government to increase its capacity for development, governance and delivering
services to the people.
"We are managing the 'clear' part, but who is going to 'hold and build'
going forward?" one senior European official asked. "That capacity to govern is
not there, and it will need to be if the Afghans want to take the lead."