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NATO says Poland must finish job in Afghanistan

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Poland needs to stay committed in Afghanistan until the job there is done, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Reuters on the eve of a meeting with the new Polish president.

Poland, which has 2,600 troops in Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), is one of a growing number of NATO nations that are setting target dates for withdrawal amid domestic unease over the war.

President Bronislaw Komorowski vowed during his election campaign to bring Polish troops home by 2012 regardless of what other NATO countries decided.

He is due to meet with Rasmussen on his first visit to Brussels since being sworn in on August 6.

“Obviously, the goal is to make it possible for the international coalition to move into a more supporting role by handing over responsibility to the Afghans,” Rasmussen told Reuters.

“But we also have to make sure that we finish our job, that we stay committed until we have reached our goal. This will be my message to the president. As it has been to all political leaders within the international coalition.”

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has set a goal of 2014 for Afghan forces to take over full responsibility for security, but the deadline will rely heavily on the success of foreign troops in battling Taliban insurgents and training the Afghan army.

Rasmussen has opposed setting timetables for withdrawing troops, saying it could encourage the Taliban.

On an official visit to his home country Denmark, the NATO chief said demonstrating clear progress on the ground would be key to keeping the alliance and its partners united and engaged in the Afghanistan conflict.

“And clear progress would be a gradual handover of responsibility to the Afghans, province by province, district by district,” he said.

Poland’s Chief of Staff General Mieczyslaw Cieniuch has expressed skepticism about Komorowski’s 2012 aim.

In a Reuters interview on July 20 he said it is impossible to achieve NATO’s goals in Afghanistan in two years and Poland would have to redefine its targets if it wants to bring its troops home in 2012.

Reporting by Anna Ringstrom; editing by Noah Barkin