U.S. To Unveil Transition Plan For Afghanistan

Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, told a small press briefing in Islamabad on Monday that a phased, four-year plan to wind down U.S. and NATO fighting in Afghanistan by 2014 will be presented at a NATO summit in Lisbon, Portugal, this weekend. The size of the drawdown expected to begin in July will depend on conditions, but Holbrooke said Afghanistan will "be able to stand up, but it will not stand alone."

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2014, that's when the Obama administration hopes to end U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan with the drawdown beginning next summer. The timeline came today from President Obama's special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke. Speaking in Islamabad, Holbrooke said the plan to transfer security to the Afghans will be presented at a NATO summit in Lisbon this week.

In a moment, we'll get a status report on the training of Afghan troops. First, NPR's Julie McCarthy begins our coverage in Islamabad.

JULIE MCCARTHY: Ambassador Holbrooke said he hopes that Lisbon marks a turning point for American and allied forces fighting in Afghanistan. From Lisbon on, he said that the United States will be in a transition mode with a target date of the end of 2014 for Afghanistan to take the lead for its own security.

Ambassador RICHARD HOLBROOKE (Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Obama Administration): This does not mean that international forces will leave completely. And it definitely doesn't mean we're going to repeat 1989 when United States turned its back on Afghanistan as soon as the Soviets left.

MCCARTHY: So Holbrooke said it was important to make clear this is not an exit strategy, but a transition strategy.

Amb. HOLBROOKE: And that transition strategy is designed to bring us a clear path towards Afghanistan being able to stand up. But it will not stand alone.

MCCARTHY: The U.S. and its allies would remain in Afghanistan past 2014. But for training and mentoring, as American troops are doing now in Iraq. Until now, President Obama has left unfixed the pace and schedule for pulling out the 100,000 American combat troops in Afghanistan. The 2014 date marks the most concrete blueprint to end the war since the president took office. President Obama has set next summer as a starting point for the gradual drawdown of U.S. combat personnel. His envoy said July 2011 still stands.

Amb. HOLBROOKE: The pace and size to be determined by the president. But the one thing you can be sure of is there will be some drawdowns in July of next year.

MCCARTHY: Holbrooke also insisted...

Amb. HOLBROOKE: Pakistan must be part of the solution if there is to be a solution.

MCCARTHY: Pakistan is accused of giving sanctuary to the very forces Afghanistan is fighting. For conflict to end, Holbrooke said Islamabad and Kabul must recognize they have a common enemy. That enemy ranges from al-Qaida to the Taliban to the Haqqani network, which attacks NATO forces from a safe haven inside Pakistan.

The U.S. continues to urge the Pakistani military to go after the Haqqani group in its stronghold in Pakistan's tribal territories. The Pakistanis, however, have so far refused, saying their soldiers are already tied down in the tribal regions waging war on several fronts against their own Taliban.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad.

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