May 21 - NATO leaders seal a landmark agreement to hand control of Afghanistan over to its own security forces by the middle of next year. Deborah Lutterbeck reports.
NATO leaders seal a landmark agreement Monday to hand control of Afghanistan over to its own security forces by the middle of next year, putting the Western alliance on an "irreversible" path out of an unpopular, decade-long war. NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN (SOUNDBITE) (English) NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN SAYING: "In the course of next year, we expect that Afghan security forces will have assumed the lead for security responsibility across the whole of Afghanistan. That will be a significant marker towards completing the journey of transition." While NATO formally endorsed a U.S.-backed strategy that calls for a gradual exit of foreign combat troops by the end of 2014, the alliance left major questions unanswered about how to prevent a slide into chaos and a Taliban resurgence after the allies are gone. The two-day meeting of the 28-nation alliance marked a milestone in a war sparked by the September 11 attacks that has spanned three U.S. presidential terms and even outlasted al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. A decision by France's new President Francois Hollande to pull out French troops by the end of December - two years ahead of NATO's timetable - has raised fears that other allies may also think about a rush to the exits. U.S. President Barack Obama called for a "responsible" end to the war. (SOUNDBITE) (English) U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA SAYING: "Our nations and the world have a vital interest in the success of this mission and I am confident, because of the leadership represented here as well as the leadership of our outstanding armed forces, that we can advance that goal today and responsibly bring this war to an end." Alliance leaders, in a final communiqué, ratified plans for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to hand over command of all combat missions to Afghan forces by the middle of 2013 and for the withdrawal of most of the 130,000 foreign troops by the end of 2014. Deborah Lutterbeck, Reuters