Top defence representatives from 50 nations began an important session in Belgium on the future of their mission in Afghanistan on Friday afternoon.
Ministers from NATO member states and countries contributing troops to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are discussing the current situation in Afghanistan.
In his opening remarks, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen told the meeting the Afghan forces were taking security responsibilities for their country in line with President Hamid Karzai’s demand.
As the transition process continued apace, the Danish diplomat said, Afghan forces were in the security lead in areas where 87 percent of the population lived. With the completion of the switch, ISAF’s role will change to a mission of assisting and advising its Afghan partners.
“The handover to Afghan security lead continues to make steady progress. The Afghan forces are demonstrating that they are capable, confident, and in command. They are leading some 80 percent of operations,” the secretary-general said.
In a few months, he continued, Afghan forces would assume lead security responsibility and all operations across the country. By the end of 2014, they will be fully in charge of nationwide security.
“But our partnership with Afghanistan will continue well beyond the end of transition and the end of our ISAF mission. We are preparing a new and different NATO-led mission after 2014 to train, advise and assist Afghan security forces.”
The meeting will consider a delay in implementing plans for slashing the strength of the 352,000-strong Afghan security force by a third after 2015.
Amid huge defence cuts planned by the US and its partners, the meeting is expected to explore ways of funding the Afghan forces at their peak strength until 2018.
During the current year, the United States is providing $5.7 billion (3.7 billion pounds) of the $6.5 billion cost to field the Afghan forces, with other NATO members contributing $300 million and the Afghans paying $500 million.
But Rasmussen said on Thursday financing the larger force was possible and preferable to fielding foreign troops. "I feel confident we will be able to finance Afghan forces of that size."
Afghan Defence Minister Gen. Bismillah Mohammadi is attending the session that will focus on the security transfer in Afghanistan and the alliance relations with Ukraine.
Representatives of the European Union and United Nations are also in attendance. General Joseph Dunford, who took over as ISAF commander on February 10, will brief participants on the overall security environment.
Also on the omnibus agenda is the Connected Forces Initiative, which was launched at the Chicago Summit in May 2012 to reinforce the skills of cooperation and interoperability between allied forces over a decade of operations.