The first provinces are expected to pass to Afghan control by July. However, Nato combat forces are expected to remain in control of security in the most dangerous areas until 2014, and stay in a supporting role well beyond that date.
“The process of transition in some provinces and districts is on track to begin early in 2011 … We reaffirm our support for (Afghan) President (Hamid) Karzai’s objective for (Afghan forces) to lead and conduct security operations in all provinces by the end of 2014,” reads a summit statement seen by the German Press Agency dpa.
The document was drafted ahead of the summit, but diplomats said that Nato officials approved it on Saturday morning, paving the way for approval by all 48 countries which have troops in the 131 000-strong ISAF at the meeting itself, as well as Karzai.
The transition process would see Nato troops progressively pulling out of their combat missions and letting Afghan forces bear the brunt of the fighting. Nato forces would remain as back-up to Afghan soldiers, especially providing artillery, training and air cover.
The document also pledges Nato support to Karzai’s government well after 2014, primarily in training for the Afghan forces and support for reconstruction and development.
That pledge “demonstrates that the alliance’s commitment to Afghanistan will endure beyond ISAF’s current mission and is intended to be consistent with broader international efforts”, it says.
Nato has already trained some 150 000 Afghan soldiers and paramilitary police, and hopes to double that figure by October next year. Ahead of the summit, Nato diplomats said that the alliance would need 900 more trainers to finish the job.
Canada has now offered an estimated 700 troops to the training mission. However, diplomats said that they would largely be dedicated to basic training in and around Kabul, meaning that NATO would probably need more than 200 trainers in other parts of the country to fully staff the mission.
In a sign of the alliance’s partnership with civilian players, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and EU leaders Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso also joined the summit.
Japan, a key financial contributor to the ISAF mission, sent a lower-ranking minister to the meeting.