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NATO Chief: Afghan Timeline Unchanged

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NATO Secretary General Anders-Fogh Rasmussen says the coalition's timeline for the security transition in Afghanistan still stands, despite recent announcements from the United States and France.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and French President Nicolas Sarkozy have each suggested the coalition should end its combat role in 2013, more than a year ahead of previous plans and switch to training and advising Afghan troops through 2014.

Rasmussen said ahead of Thursday's NATO defense ministers' meeting in Brussels that the alliance will stand by its previously agreed to plan to wind up operations in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

But the NATO secretary-general noted that international troops will hand over security control of the last Afghan provinces to Afghan forces by the middle of next year. He said starting in mid-2013, Afghan security forces will "take the lead" and coalition troops will gradually change from "combat to support." He said "in that, there is nothing new."

Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told reporters traveling to Brussels with him that "hopefully by the mid-to-latter part of 2013 we will be able to make a transition from a combat role to a training, advise and assist role."

French President Sarkozy announced earlier this month that his country will withdraw its combat forces from Afghanistan in 2013, a year earlier than planned.

The U.S. defense chief called 2013 a crucial year for the final transfer of remaining areas to Afghan security forces. He said no decisions have been made about the level of U.S. forces remaining in Afghanistan once that combat role has ended.

Thursday's NATO meeting in Brussels is being held just days after a leaked coalition report revealed that members of the Taliban insurgency are confident they can regain power in Afghanistan once coalition troops have departed.

The meeting is meant to lay the groundwork for a larger NATO gathering set for Chicago in May.

Article by VOA News