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Sat Feb 23, 2013, 10:09 AM

Withdrawal Symptoms: NATO Struggles over Afghanistan's Future


When NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen steps before the press at the alliance's headquarters in Brussels, he normally has good news. Phrases such as "on track" and "in time" have become indispensable elements of his press conferences.

But this week, Ramussen was forced to strike a different tone when commenting on Afghanistan. At the two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers on Thursday and Friday, the alliance had hoped to agree on the training mission envisioned for the country once the multi-national International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) withdraws at the end of 2014. It was not to be, though. Instead, Rasmussen was forced to admit that "we still have some time to go."

"We are in the process of planning and I would expect final decisions on the size and scope of the future NATO-led training mission to be taken within the coming months," he added.

The delay reflects difficult behind-the-scenes discussions relating to the post-2014 training mission in Afghanistan. At the NATO summit in Chicago last May, alliance leaders pledged not to abandon Afghanistan following the withdrawal. Since then, however, the ongoing debate among alliance members as to just what that means has been intense.

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