Afghans set ambitious 2014 security target

By Jonathon Burch

KABUL (BestGrowthStock) – Afghan forces should be leading security operations in all parts of the country by 2014, an international conference agreed on Tuesday, with the aim of taking over from foreign troops in some areas by the year’s end.

The ambitious deadline will rely heavily on the success of some 150,000 foreign troops in an ongoing operation against the Taliban in their 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.

The reality of security elsewhere was illustrated by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s flight to Tuesday’s conference being diverted to NATO’s Bagram airfield following an insurgent rocket attack.

“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 around 60 foreign ministers including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, insurgents managed to land at least 5 rockets near the airport and diplomatic area around midnight.

The final communique 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,” said the communique.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the Afghans had set out their own plans, but needed to put those into practice.

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

Lawmaker Daud Sultanzoi said the goal was laudable but “wishful thinking.”

SO MANY QUESTIONS

“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 July next year, and Clinton told the conference that the 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. The transition process is too important to push off indefinitely,” she said.

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

Afghan President Hamid Karzai will see the conference as a triumph after a difficult year which saw him lose favor with Western partners following a disputed election win, complaints about the competence of his government and a half-brother’s alleged shady business dealings.

He was greeted warmly by a stream of foreign visitors, with footage of what was promoted as being the most important international conference in over three decades broadcast live on state TV throughout the day.

The final communique said participants gave strong support for channeling at least 50 percent of development aid through the government within two years, from the current 20 percent, in exchange for better accountability and a crackdown on graft.

While acknowledging problems, Karzai insists that most corruption and wastage surrounds private contracts doled out by the U.S. military and government.

“We must work together to agree on common norms, standards, rules and codes of conduct on contracting. This is especially important in the domain of private security companies whose very existence undermines and threatens our combined efforts to strengthen the Afghan government,” he said.

More than $40 billion has been spent on Afghanistan since 2002, Oxfam says — around half toward training and equipping the army and police force.

Lawmaker Sultanzoi said Afghanistan would rely on foreign military help until the national mindset changed.

“It is not just the equipment and gear and technical things,” he said. “It is also a culture that a national army has to possess in order to take control of the defense of a nation.”

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(Writing by David Fox; Additional reporting by Andrew Quinn, Hamid Shalizi and Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Alex Richardson)

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Afghans set ambitious 2014 security target