— NATO is claiming significant progress on security in Afghanistan, based on a report its commanding general there made Wednesday via video link to alliance foreign ministers meeting in Brussels.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says statistics presented during the briefing “clearly prove” NATO's strategy is on track to hand over full security responsibility to Afghan forces in two years.
He said the briefing from U.S. Marine Corps General John Allen indicates there has been a “significant decrease” in violence in parts of Afghanistan that have already been handed over to Afghan forces, which include areas where 70 percent of the Afghan people live.
“It proves that we are pursuing the right strategy," said Rasmussen. "We hand over in a gradual process lead responsibility to the Afghans. The Afghan security forces are quite capable to take on that responsibility.”
The secretary general's optimistic comments came even though officials acknowledge that Taliban insurgents remain capable of launching significant attacks, and NATO plans to keep a significant number of combat troops in Afghanistan as the transition to Afghan control continues. NATO plans to move to an advise-and-train mission at the end of 2014.
As the foreign ministers' meeting ended Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton repeated the U.S. commitment to continue to help Afghanistan beyond that time. And she said a political settlement must be part of the country's long-term plan for stability.
“We also continue to support an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned reconciliation process," she said. "Ultimately, we believe there has to be a political resolution to the ongoing disputes among Afghans themselves.”
Clinton said the United States would like to see “all Afghans” denounce violence and join the political process and help move the country toward stability and respect for human rights. The Washington Post
reported that the U.S. government is launching a new effort to get the Afghan reconciliation process moving, and that Secretary Clinton discussed the issue on Tuesday with Pakistan's foreign minister.
Secretary Clinton noted that this was likely her last NATO meeting. She plans to step down early next year. She claimed “impressive” progress at NATO during the last four years, including an improved situation in Afghanistan, a successful military mission over Libya, better relations with Russia, the addition of Croatia and Albania and movement toward having Georgia join the alliance, and the development of a missile defense shield for Europe.
She said NATO is critical, and is needed “more than ever.” And she called on her fellow officials to make clear to their often skeptical populations that the alliance is well worth the investment of money and effort.