NATO sees 2013 as an optimistic year for Afghanistan
With only a few weeks left in December and the New Year fast approaching, many find time to reflect on the past year's accomplishments and look toward the future. But with the ongoing conflict in Syria and preparations to transfer lead responsibility in Afghanistan, NATO has a lot to prepare for.
It should be an eventful year for NATO in 2013. The alliance is preparing to shift responsibility for Afghanistan security to Afghan forces, while simultaneously deploying defensive forces to Turkey — where officials are concerned about spillover violence from Syria.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says the alliance has no intention to intervene militarily in Syria, though.
"Obviously we are following the situation with great concern, in particular when it comes to the possible spill-over to other countries in the region and unfortunately we have seen incidents. We have seen the shooting down of a Turkish aircraft. We have seen shellings across the Syrian-Turkish border," he said. “I can assure you that NATO has all plans in place to protect and defend Turkey effectively."
Turkey has requested consulations with allies on several occasions. And Rasmussen says NATO has kept the situation under review.
"If Turkey sends requests for further measures to ensure effective protection of the Turkish population and territory that will of course be considered and I think considered positively by allies," he said. "But as an alliance we have no intention to intervene militarily in Syria."
The handover of security responsibility in all Afghan provinces will be a major milestone in 2013. Rasmussen said there's clear evidence Afghan security forces are ready for the task. NATO has already begun the transition process in several provinces, covering some 75 percent of the country's population. And in those areas NATO has seen a decline in enemy attacks — yet NATO will continue to train and educate the Afghan forces as the change continues.
"I'm confident we are on the right track and we can handover full responsibility to the Afghans by the end of 2014 as planned," he said.
The operation in Afghanistan is a primary focus of NATO’s in 2013, Rasmussen said.
"By mid-2013, I would expect to have handed over lead responsibility to the Afghan security forces all over Afghanistan. We will stay with our combat mission until the end of 2014. And from 2015 we will establish a NATO-led training mission in Afghanistan," he said.
But the economic challenge many governments face is leading to cuts in defense budgets — a situation that must still be addressed, Rasmussen said.
"We have to make sure that despite economic austerity we will be able to acquire the necessary military capabilities in the future," he saod. "But all in all, I’m quite optimistic about the prospects for 2013.”
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