Afghan forces aim to take lead by 2014

Afghan police and soldiers should be responsible for security in the country by 2014, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said during an international meeting of military and political leaders in Kabul.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton prepare for a group photo at the end of an international conference on Afghanistan in Kabul on Tuesday. ((Ahmad Masood/Reuters))

Afghan police and soldiers should be responsible for security in the country by 2014, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said during an international meeting of military and political leaders in Kabul.

Speaking at the first international conference on Afghanistan held in the war-torn nation, Karzai said he is "determined that our Afghan security forces will be responsible for all military and law enforcement operations" throughout the country by 2014.

The president did not outline exactly when the transition would begin or how it would be managed.

NATO representatives and other officials endorsed the plan for a transition to Afghan leadership of security matters by 2014.

"This provides us with a timetable," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement Tuesday. "But of course, the whole process must be conditions-based.

"We will not leave Afghanistan until we know for sure that the Afghans can take care of their own security."

Canada plans on ending its combat mission in Afghanistan in 2011, and U.S. President Barack Obama has said he would like to start pulling military forces out of the country in July 2011.

Canada's foreign affairs minister, Lawrence Cannon, told reporters he is "quite confident" that Karzai and NATO forces "will be able to meet these targets as they are coming forward."

Though Canada's combat mission is slated to end, Cannon said, the country will continue to support Afghanistan by working in the areas of human rights and development. Canada has also been involved in training members of Afghan security forces.

Cannon said Canada would support a reconciliation between the current Afghan rulers and the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other insurgents fighting against them in the interest of peace — but only under certain conditions.

"We encourage a reconciliation process that is inclusive of all Afghans, no matter their ethnicity, tribe or gender," Cannon said. "Those who are reconciling must renounce violence, accept the Afghan constitution and cut all ties to terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda."

In this image from TV footage, Karzai delivers his speech at the conference on Afghanistan's future. ((APTV/Associated Press))

Cannon also called on Afghanistan to address corruption in its justice system and embrace electoral reform to avoid the problems encountered in last year's controversial presidential election.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged growing opposition to international involvement in the conflict amid the rising death toll of foreign troops in the country. But she told the audience that the planned scaling back of U.S. forces was not a sign of a waning commitment to Afghanistan.

Afghan control needed: Karzai

Karzai also expressed his government's desire to take charge of more of its own affairs, asking his international partners to channel 50 per cent of their foreign assistance through the government within two years.

He also urged them to align 80 per cent of their projects with priorities that have been identified by Afghans.

"It is time to concentrate our efforts on a limited number of national programs and projects to transform the lives of our people, reinforce the social compact between the state and the citizens," Karzai said.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is co-hosting the Kabul conference, which is looking at how to transfer control of the country to the Afghan people. The UN leader promised a future where the wishes of the Afghan people are respected.

"At times, we have shown insufficient consideration for Afghan culture and history," he said. "The Kabul process, upon which we embark today, is intended to do better."

Security tight

Security was tight for the international conference, with thousands of Afghan soldiers and police patrolling the streets of Kabul.

In northern Afghanistan, two American civilians and two Afghan soldiers were killed Tuesday in a shooting at an army base.

The shooting in Mazar-e-Sharif was apparently started by an Afghan soldier who was training at the base, officials said.

NATO said the soldiers were going through routine weapons proficiency training when the gunfire started, The Associated Press reported. One of those killed was the alleged shooter.

Afghan Defence Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said an investigation had been launched into the incident.

With files from The Associated Press and The Canadian Press