LONDON — The US commander in Afghanistan has drafted a timetable for the handing over of control of its provinces to local security forces, The Times newspaper reported Monday.
US General David Petraeus's colour-coded map, which will be presented to NATO leaders at a summit in Lisbon on November 19, contains a small number of "green" areas which are designated for handover within six months.
The plan indicates that the western province of Herat is due for an early handover, while NATO forces are expected to remain in the violence-torn southern provinces of Kandahar and Helmand for at least two more years.
Alliance diplomatic sources told the newspaper that Petraeus did not want the map to be published, fearing certain provinces and districts would become "bull's-eye" targets for the Taliban.
The sources added that Petraeus will use the Lisbon summit to reaffirm that the changeover will be a gradual process of NATO withdrawal and strengthening of Afghan forces.
Afghanistan is divided into 34 provinces, with violence mainly concentrated in nine to the south and east. Of over 300 districts within the provinces, it is hoped that around two-thirds could be handed over without serious risk.
The summit is expected to give full support to the proposals which support US President Barack Obama's promise that he will begin pulling US troops out of Afghanistan from July next year.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Monday that the Afghan government's plan to take over security from foreign troops by 2014 was realistic.
But the head of Britain's armed forces, General Sir David Richards, ruled out any reduction before 2012 in the British force of more than 9,500 in Afghanistan.
Richards told the Sun newspaper they had to stay for "as long as it takes," adding: "We are in a demanding part of Afghanistan and therefore, inevitably, we're going to be shouldering the burden at least through next year."
British Prime Minister David Cameron said in July that Britain could start withdrawing troops as early as next year based on "conditions on the ground". He has pledged that British combat troops will be out of Afghanistan by 2015.
Richards said that Britain may need to keep up to 1,000 "trainers" in Afghanistan after 2015.
"After 2015, we'll be in a supporting role. But we've expended so much time, effort and, yes, lives on this," he told The Sun.
"The worst of all things would be to get out before we finish the job properly, for want of 1,000 trainers to keep them going for another couple of years."
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