World News

NATO chief hopes for Nov Afghanistan handover deal: report

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - The head of NATO said on Monday he hoped alliance states would agree at a Lisbon summit to start handing over security responsibility in Afghanistan to local authorities next year.

Allied military and civilian deaths have hit record levels in recent months, with violence at its worst since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

“I do not say that the security situation in Afghanistan is satisfactory, because it definitely isn’t. But there is progress,” Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Danish TV2 News.

“And I hope that we at the NATO summit in November will be able to decide to begin to gradually hand over responsibility in 2011,” he said on the eve of an official visit to his home country Denmark.

Afghanistan has set a target of 2014 for the country to take over complete security responsibility from NATO and the United States, which is ramping up efforts to train Afghanistan’s army and police.

Rasmussen said he supported Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s 2014 target.

President Barack Obama has said he intends to start pulling out U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011 as long as the right conditions exist.

A growing number of NATO nations are setting target dates for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, reflecting domestic unease over the rising death toll in the war. The Netherlands began pulling its 2,000 troops out of Afghanistan on August 1.

Rasmussen has opposed setting timetables for withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, saying it could encourage the Taliban to step up attacks on the coalition.

Reporting by Anna Ringstrom