TALLINN, Estonia, April 24 (UPI) -- NATO countries have approved a plan to give control of Afghanistan's security back to the country's government, a NATO spokesman said.
The transition, which is to begin this year, would enable U.S. President Barack Obama to fulfill his promise to start withdrawing U.S. troops by July 2011.
NATO, which approved the plan in Estonia Friday, wants a formal agreement with the Afghan government in July, The New York Times reports.
The plan calls for authority to be transferred to the Afghan government only when it has a competent local police force and a strong civilian government and has moved toward reconciliation with the Taliban, the Times said.
NATO aims to begin transferring authority to some of the more stable provinces by November.
"As of today, we have a road map which will lead toward a transition to Afghan leadership starting this year, at which point our publics will start to see the progress for which they quite rightly have been asking," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said after a two-day meeting with alliance foreign ministers.
But he stressed foreign troops would stay on to support Afghan soldiers.
"It will not be a pullout; it will not be a run for the exit," Rasmussen told reporters.