Allies to ‘stay the course’ in Afghanistan: NATO chief

An Afghan boy plays on a swing in Kabul
© AFP Manan Vatsyayana


WASHINGTON (AFP) – Osama bin Laden may be dead but NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Sunday that western powers will “stay the course” in Afghanistan amid growing calls for the decade-old war to end.

“International terrorism still poses a threat toward our countries,” Rasmussen told Fox News, while acknowledging that the Al-Qaeda leader’s death in a dramatic US commando raid a week ago may have marked a crucial milestone.

But Rasmussen said he was “optimistic” US and NATO forces will abide by a timetable to transition security to Afghan responsibility this year, with an aim to complete that process in 2014.

About 150,000 foreign troops — 100,000 of them US forces — are deployed in Afghanistan in a protracted counter-insurgency campaign against the Taliban, which was ousted in a US invasion in 2001 for its support for Al-Qaeda.

Meanwhile, US lawmakers have stepped up their calls for a more rapid US withdrawal from Afghanistan after the death of bin Laden.

A group of legislators from both parties has introduced a bill requiring President Barack Obama to provide an “exit strategy” for troops from Afghanistan. But the legislation is not expected to gain much traction as it has little support from congressional leaders.

The United States should “think very carefully about our objectives” in light of the war in Afghanistan’s heavy impact on the US military and its budget, Senator Richard Lugar told CNN’s “State of the Union.

“I would like to see this administration defining this much more precisely as opposed to the fact that we’re simply going to have a general review and 2014 is out there in some fashion,” added the Indiana senator, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Speaking on CBS television’s “Face the Nation,” the panel’s chairman Senator John Kerry said Congress should consider whether the United States can use fewer troops to realize its goals in Afghanistan.

“I think we have the ability to have a different footprint and still accomplish our goals,” said the Massachusetts Democrat.

But White House National Security Adviser Tom Donilon stressed that “we haven’t made those determinations yet” as far as concerns changing the pace of a withdrawal from Afghanistan.

On Friday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates called bin Laden’s death a potential “game-changer” for the US-led war effort in Afghanistan, noting the killing could aggravate tensions between the Taliban insurgency, which includes spiritual leader Mullah Omar, and Al-Qaeda.

However, in speaking to service members at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina, the Pentagon chief cautioned that it was “too early to make a judgment in terms of the impact inside Afghanistan, but I think in six months or so we’ll probably know if it’s made a difference.”

© AFP — Published at Activist Post with license

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