NATO Nations Ask U.N. for New Afghan 'Timelines'
MADRID - The Spanish defense minister, Carme Chacón, said Wednesday that five years would be a "reasonable" timeframe for NATO forces to withdraw from Afghanistan, just as major European powers officially called on the United Nations to convene an international conference before the end of the year to set new "benchmarks and timelines."
Mrs. Chacón also said she would request 220 more troops for Spain's Afghanistan contingent, bringing the permanent deployment there to about 1,000. With the additional troops, Spain's contribution would still fall behind those of 10 other NATO members, led by the United States, Britain, France and Germany. Spain's government is expected to approve the request Friday at a cabinet meeting.
Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero had already said in July that troop levels would probably increase.
"International troops aren't there to stay," Mrs. Chacón said Wednesday in a radio interview. "We need and want deadlines. And a horizon in which we have completed our objectives in the next five years seems reasonable. That is why an international conference is important."
The office of President Nicolas Sarkozy of France released a letter Wednesday - also signed by Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany - urging the U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, to call a ministerial-level conference to discuss the aftermath of the Afghan elections.
"We should agree on new benchmarks and timelines for a joint framework in the transitional phase in Afghanistan, that is, spell out what we expect for the handover of responsibility to the Afghans and a clear vision of its gradual transfer, where it is possible" the letter said.
Public concern over a prolonged military presence has grown in NATO-member countries. The alliance's secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said Wednesday that the Afghan government needed to assume more responsibility after almost eight years of NATO involvement.
"What we need is a clear step toward transition to Afghan leadership in all areas - security, health, education, development and governance," he said in remarks released before a speech he was to give at a ceremony in Virginia.