By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 20, 2010 - Representatives of those who are fighting together in Afghanistan to restore that nation's security and governance formalized their partnership today as the NATO Summit closed in Lisbon, Portugal, signing declarations that affirm their long-term commitment.
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a declaration of "enduring partnership" that Rasmussen said would "endure beyond our combat mission."
Representatives of the heads of state and government of 48 nations that contribute to the U.N.-mandated International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan also issued a declaration affirming their resolve to lay foundations there for long-term security.
"To put it simply," Rasmussen said during a press briefing, "if the Taliban or anyone else aims to wait us out, they can forget it. We will stay as long as it takes to finish our job."
NATO's main role in Afghanistan, implemented mainly through ISAF, is to help the nation's government exercise and extend its authority and influence across the country, paving the way for reconstruction and effective governance.
Since NATO took command of ISAF in 2003, the alliance gradually has expanded its mission reach from Kabul alone to all of Afghanistan's territory. ISAF has grown from an initial 5,000 troops to 130,400 troops from 48 countries, including all 28 NATO member nations.
Despite Afghanistan's difficulties, Rasmussen said, today al-Qaida has no safe haven anywhere in the country, and the Taliban are under pressure everywhere.
"The Afghan people are steadily getting freer, healthier, better educated and better governed. That is what will make Afghanistan resistant to terrorism tomorrow," Rasmussen said, "along with the Afghan security forces we are training to take over security from us."
Rasmussen said the process launched in Lisbon would help the Afghan people "once again become masters of their own house." The aim is for Afghan forces to be in the lead countrywide by the end of 2014, he said, and training is key to such a transition, he said.
"To achieve that goal, we must train and educate Afghan soldiers and Afghan police," he said. "In that respect it is encouraging that we have heard announcements that several allies and partners will provide more trainers. It is indeed a strong commitment to our mission."
Rasmussen added that he's confident that the 2014 deadline can be met because of the rapid growth in the Afghan security forces' capacity and quality.
"We started our training mission last year," he said, "and already we have more than 260,000 Afghan soldiers and police. The number is growing, and by the end of next year we have set the goal to have 300,000 Afghan soldiers and police."
Eighty-five percent of Afghan soldiers are partnering with international troops in major military operations, he added.
"More than half the participating troops are Afghans," Rasmussen said, "and they do a great job."
The international community's strong commitment "will be matched by determination and hard work by the people of Afghanistan," Karzai said, "and the two combined will give us the results of an effective, irreversible and sustainable transition."
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon joined Rasmussen and Karzai at the briefing, noting that the United Nations, Afghanistan and NATO share the same goals -- stability, reconciliation, good governance, respect for human rights, and a harmonious relationship among Afghanistan and its neighbors.
"As we move ahead we must be guided by realities, not schedules," Ban said.
"Let us remember that Afghanistan has been at war for several decades. The United Nations have been working in Afghanistan throughout this period, helping our friends at every difficult moment of their country's history," he continued. "There are no shortcuts to peace."
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