Nato summit endorses Afghan pull-out
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Leaders of countries with troops in Afghanistan endorsed a plan to exit the Afghan conflict by 2014 at their summit in Lisbon Saturday but they will stay on afterwards in a "supporting role". Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed the deal along with Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
"We have launched the process by which the Afghan people will once again become masters in their own house," Rasmussen told a press conference.
But he added that foreign troops will stay "after transition in a supporting role".
"The direction starting today is clear towards Afghan leadership and Afghan ownership," he said earlier when opening the meeting. "That is the vision President Karzai has set out. It is a vision we share and we will make a reality starting early next year."
Representatives of the 28 Nato member countries and 20 others which contribute troops to the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) were taking part in the summit. Major aid donor Japan and and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are also present.
Rasmussen promised that the allies will not desert Afghanistan and that they are involved in a long-term partnership.
But the war is unpopular in Europe and governments are under pressure to bring soldiers home, especially in the light of austerity programmes launched in response to the economic crisis.
Karzai this week criticised night raids on Afghan homes and called on the US to scale down military operations, as Obama’s surge – aimed at dealing a serious blow to the Taliban before withdrawal - continues.
Attempts to negotiate with some or all of the Taliban – one of Karzai’s key proposals which has been endorsed by previous international conferences in London and The Hague – have scarcely been mentioned at Lisbon.
Later Saturday Nato representatives meet Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to try and reach agreement for supplies to pass through his territory.
Russia has so far only allowed a one-way transit of non-lethal Nato supplies by train into Afghanistan. Nato is keen to transport weapons, especially as its convoys face frequent attacks in Pakistan.
On Friday the summit agreed to set up an anti-missile shield and invited Russia to link its defensive systems to the grid. The initial US plan for a shield in Europe met vigorous Russian opposition.
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