South Asia

Conference endorses Afghan goal for security handover

A major conference on Afghanistan has endorsed President Hamid Karzai's goal that Afghan forces should lead security operations across the country by 2014.

Mr Karzai renewed his call for Afghan control over security during the one-day conference in Kabul, attended by representatives from 70 countries.

He said delegates had approved his commitment to good governance.

The talks ended with an agreement to channel 50% of aid - up from 20% - through the Afghan government.

Mr Karzai had been lobbying for more.

The final communique from the conference said: "The international community expressed its support for the president of Afghanistan's objective that the Afghan national security forces should lead and conduct military operations in all provinces by the end of 2014."

Earlier, Mr Karzai said a board would review which of the 34 provinces were ready for Afghan forces to step up from 2011 onwards.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron said withdrawing British troops by 2014 was a "realistic" goal.

"We're training the Afghan army month by month and it's actually on target," he said in Washington ahead of talks with US President Barack Obama.

Analysts say that because insurgents still control much of Afghanistan, Mr Karzai's security targets are very ambitious.

Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen emphasised that the transition to Afghan-led security would be based on "conditions, not calendars".

"Our mission will end when - but only when - the Afghans are able to maintain security on their own," he said.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US would accelerate the process of turning over security to Afghanistan's police and military from July 2011.

She emphasised this was not the end of US involvement, adding the US military commitment to Afghanistan would be matched by an unprecedented civilian surge in economic development.

Acknowledging that Mr Karzai's administration had taken steps to fight corruption, Mrs Clinton said still more needed to be done.

"There are no shortcuts to fighting corruption and improving governance. On this front, both the Afghan people and the people of the international community expect results," she said.

She also warned the Afghan government against trying to make peace with the Taliban, al-Qaeda and other militant groups the US considers irreconcilable.

Speaking in Washington, President Obama said the conference was a "major step forward" for Afghanistan's future, and that the US strategy in the country was the right one.

Tight security

To allow the withdrawal of some of the 150,000 Nato-led troops from Afghanistan, Mr Karzai proposed boosting the national army to 170,000 soldiers, and the police by 134,000 officers by October 2011. Up to 36,000 former militants would be reintegrated into society.

Some analysts suggest this would leave an Afghan force too small and too poorly qualified to guarantee security.

Professor Thomas Johnson, an adviser to the US government on Afghanistan, told the BBC almost no Afghan National Army units were currently able to operate independently of international support.

Security was tight in the Afghan capital ahead of the conference.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt reported on his blog that a plane carrying him and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to the conference had to be diverted to Bagram air base outside the capital, after rocket fire prevented them from landing at Kabul airport early on Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, two US civilian trainers and an Afghan soldier were killed after another Afghan soldier opened fire near the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Afghanistan has received $36bn (£24bn) in foreign aid - about $1,200 a head - since 2001, but only a small amount of that spending has had any impact, says BBC international development correspondent David Loyn.

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