Training Afghan Forces Will Take Years, Karzai Says
LONDON — Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain opened an international conference on Afghanistan here on Thursday, saying international efforts to end the eight-year-old war had reached a “decisive time.”
“By the middle of next year, we have to turn the tide,” he said.
The one-day gathering of almost 70 nations, including the United States, plans to dwell on efforts to lure moderate Afghan fighters away from the Taliban with offers of jobs and housing to and hasten the handover of security responsibilities from foreign to Afghan forces.
But, sounding a cautious note before the conference started, President Hamid Karzai said it could take 5 to 10 years for Afghan forces to take over from the American-led coalition fighting the Taliban and even longer to end his country’s dependence on financial aid to sustain its military.
As the conference opened, Mr. Karzai also urged King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to play a prominent role in overseeing peace efforts. And, he said, peace talks should embrace “all our countrymen, especially our disenchanted brothers who are not part of Al Qaeda or other terrorist networks.”
He said he planned to call a national gathering, known as a jirga, to debate the proposals.
Some news reports said the Taliban leadership had reacted dismissively to the strategy, saying its fighters would not be influenced by offers of financial betterment.
The conference was called late last year after President Obama promised to send an extra 30,000 troops to curb a burgeoning insurgency that has claimed increasing casualties among American and other coalition forces.
Leaders including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gathered in the ornate chambers of Lancaster House near Buckingham Palace to hear Mr. Brown open the gathering by saying that the transfer of security responsibilities to Afghan forces would start this year.
“This is a decisive time for the international cooperation that is helping the Afghan people secure and govern their own country,” Mr. Brown said. “This conference marks the beginning of the transition process,” he said, referring to the security handover to Afghan authorities.
Earlier, in a BBC radio interview, he spoke of the strategy to divide the Taliban into moderate and hardline camps, seeking to lure some insurgents away from militancy. But, he said, he believed “the first thing is to strengthen the Afghan forces, and then to weaken the Taliban by dividing them.”
“You cannot have a situation where you are making advances to those people who are prepared to renounce violence and join the democratic process and say they will have nothing more to do with the activities that they have been involved with in the past unless you have a strong Afghan army and police,” he said.
In the same interview, Mr. Karzai said, “With regard to training and equipping the Afghan security forces, 5 to 10 years will be enough.”
“With regard to sustaining them until Afghanistan is financially able to provide for our forces, the time may be extended to 10 to 15 years,” he said.
The conference is being attended by United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen. But Iran, an important regional player and neighbor of Afghanistan, announced through its state-run media that it would not attend.