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NATO 'on track' in Afghanistan

  |   Feb. 3, 2012 at 12:26 PM
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BRUSSELS, Feb. 3 (UPI) -- The process that leads to Afghan security forces taking full responsibility for their security by 2014 remains on track, NATO defense ministers said.

NATO ministers agreed during a 2010 meeting in Portugal gradually reduce their military presence in Afghanistan with the aim of pulling out by 2014. Afghan President Hamid Karzai had said he'd like Afghan security forces in charge by the 2014 deadline.

Defense ministers from NATO and participants in the International Security Assistance Force met in Brussels to discuss the commitment to Afghanistan.

Defense ministers said they remained committed to the Lisbon agreement to hand security off to Afghan forces by 2014.

"That goal stands, for every single one of us," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a statement.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he hoped Afghan national security forces would be able to take the lead in combat operations at some point next year.

"But I want to be clear: Even as Afghans assume the security lead, ISAF will continue to have to be fully combat-ready and we will engage in combat operations as necessary," he said at a news conference.

Panetta added that the fact that coalition leaders were discussing transition was a sign of progress in Afghanistan.

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