By Nick Simeone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 31, 2013 – Afghan forces are just several weeks away from taking the lead in combat operations from NATO-led forces across Afghanistan, President Barack Obama said today after meeting with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the White House.
“We’ve seen great progress in the Afghan national security forces. We want to continue that progress,” Obama said. “And we are now looking over the next several weeks to a new milestone … where we are transitioning to Afghan lead for combat operations.”
Declaring that “our goal is in sight,” Rasmussen noted the progress the Afghan army and police have made over the past year, in the time since NATO leaders agreed at a summit in Chicago to set the middle of 2013 as the goal for transitioning combat operations across the country. Rasmussen said the alliance now is working to establish a new training mission to continue assisting Afghan forces after the current NATO mission ends.
“It will be a very different mission, a noncombat mission with a significantly lower number of troops and trainers,” he said. “So we are determinedly moving towards our goal: an Afghanistan that can stand on its own feet.”
To that end, Obama and Rasmussen announced NATO will hold a summit next year to determine how the alliance can continue partnering with the Afghan government. Obama said the summit will not only “underscore this final chapter in our Afghan operations, but also paint a picture of a future whereby we’re partnering with the Afghan government on behalf of the Afghan people and on behalf of world security” to ensure the country does not become a base for terrorism in the future.
On other matters, Obama and Rasmussen discussed making sure Libya, where several NATO countries intervened to protect civilians from former ruler Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, also does not become a haven for terrorists.
“I think NATO has an important role to play on that front,” Obama said, adding that he knows Rasmussen recently met with Libya’s prime minister and had discussions about how NATO could provide assistance.