WORLD NEWS TOMORROW– EU: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit in Chicago on Saturday and Sunday will chart the course of our future engagement in Afghanistan. We plan to spell out the details of our current mission’s last stage, and then turn the page to a new mission. This reflects the growing ability of Afghan troops and police to take charge of their own security by the end of 2014, —as well as our commitment to an enduring partnership with the Afghan people beyond 2014.
All 28 NATO Allies have contributed troops and trainers to our Afghan mission, along with 22 partner nations from five continents. This makes the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force the largest coalition in recent history.
Our long-term investment in the training and education of Afghan troops and police is paying off. The security forces are steadily increasing and will likely reach their agreed maximum size by the autumn. They are more capable and confident every day — as I saw when visiting the Afghan Special Forces training center near Kabul last month. Their quick and effective response to several recent attacks demonstrated increased professionalism.
Those vicious attacks also showed the challenges we still face. But they cannot hide the real progress Afghanistan has made since the dark days of the Taliban. The economy is growing. More markets are open. More boys and girls are going to school. More teachers are being trained. More Afghans have access to basic services like clean water and electricity. And more Afghans are having their voices heard, through independent and vibrant media.
This progress is closely linked to the continuing transition of ISAF’s security responsibilities to the Afghans. Their troops and police are already in the lead for the security of half the population.
President Hamid Karzai just announced a major group of provinces, cities and districts due to make the move to Afghan security lead in the coming weeks. Once this decision is implemented, transition will have begun in every one of Afghanistan’s 34 provinces, including every provincial capital. Three-quarters of the Afghan population will be looking to their own forces for their security.
In the course of 2013, we expect to see Afghans taking the lead for combat operations across the remainder of the country. That will be a significant marker toward completing the journey of transition by the end of 2014.
It will show that Afghans have an increasing stake in the future of their country. And that we are getting closer to our long-standing goal: a stable and secure Afghanistan that can never again provide a safe haven to terrorists who threaten our nations.