311_Karzai and Clinton.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
KABUL, Afghanistan — President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday reaffirmed his commitment for Afghan police and soldiers to take charge of security nationwide by 2014 and urged his international backers to spend their money on long-term Afghan priorities.
Karzai spoke at a one-day international conference on Afghanistan's future that comes at a critical juncture: NATO and Afghan forces have launched a major operation to drive the Taliban out of their strongholds, and the insurgents are pushing back. Rockets fired at the Kabul airport Tuesday forced the diversion of a plane carrying UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Sweden's foreign minister.
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Wearing a traditional striped robe and peaked fur hat, Karzai said that Afghanistan and its Western allies share "a vicious common enemy." But, he said, victory will come in giving Afghans as much responsibility as possible in combatting the insurgency within its borders. He was flanked by international diplomats including Ban and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"I remain determined that our Afghan national security forces will be responsible for all military and law enforcement operations throughout our country by 2014" — more than three years after President Barack Obama's date for the start of an American troop drawdown, Karzai said.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the alliance will never allow the Taliban to topple the government of Afghanistan. He said that transition to Afghan-led security would be based on "conditions, not calendars."
"Our mission will end when — but only when — the Afghans are able to maintain security on their own," Fogh Rasmussen said.
Karzai also expressed his government's desire to take charge of more of
its affairs. He asked his international partners to channel 50 percent
of their foreign assistance through the government within two years. He
also urged them to align 80 percent of their projects with priorities
that have been identified by Afghans.
"It is time to concentrate our efforts on a limited number of national
programs and projects to transform the lives of our people, reinforce
the social compact between the state and the citizens," Karzai said.
Obama has said he wants to begin withdrawing American troops in July
2011. Though he has stressed the timetable is dependent on security
conditions, it has raised concerns in Afghanistan and the region that
the US is eager to exit the war.
"The transition process is too important to push off indefinitely,"
Clinton said Tuesday as she sought to allay those concerns. "But this
date is the start of a new phase, not the end of our involvement. We
have no intention of abandoning our long-term mission of achieving a
stable, secure, peaceful Afghanistan. Too many nations — especially
Afghanistan — have suffered too many losses to see this country slide