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Afghan withdrawal timeline "irrational": Taliban

KABUL (Reuters) - Any talk of a withdrawal timeline for international forces from Afghanistan is “irrational” and foreign troops should pull out immediately, the Afghan Taliban said on Sunday.

In a five-point statement released in response to a NATO summit in Lisbon which wrapped up on Saturday, the Taliban said delaying the withdrawal of foreign troops would only lead to more “tragic events and battles”.

On Saturday, NATO leaders agreed to hand control of security in Afghanistan to Afghan forces by the end of 2014 and said the NATO-led force could halt combat operations by the same date if security conditions were good enough.

“The NATO decision to start withdrawal of military forces from Afghanistan in 2014 is an irrational decision,” the Taliban said in a statement emailed to the media.

“Because until then, various untoward and tragic events and battles will take place as a result of this meaningless, imposed and unwinnable war. They should not postpone withdrawal of their forces even be it for one day,” it said.

Some U.S. and NATO officials have said a spike in violence and problems in building up a capable Afghan army and police force to take over could make it hard to meet the 2014 target date set by President Hamid Karzai.

Mark Sedwill, the top NATO civilian representative in Kabul, said last week the transition could spill over into 2015 in some of the most violent areas of Afghanistan.

Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban were overthrown in late 2001 by U.S.-backed Afghan forces, with record casualties on all sides of the conflict despite the presence of about 150,000.

U.S. President Barack Obama said on Saturday his aim was to halt major combat operations by the end of 2014 and significantly reduce the number of U.S. troops there. Washington plans to begin withdrawing its troops gradually from July 2011.

Other NATO countries are planning to start handing security responsibility of some areas of the country to Afghan forces according to a similar timeline.

The Netherlands pulled their troops out of Afghanistan this year after the government collapsed in February over the war, and others have announced they will end their mission before 2014.

Others nations, like Canada, have said they will change from combat to training roles.

U.S. ally Pakistan, which borders Afghanistan and is concerned about any breakdown in security there, said on Sunday NATO forces should only pull out if the situation on the ground made that possible [nSGE6AK00F]

Editing by Paul Tait and Miral Fahmy