The NATO summit's agreement of Saturday Nov. 2010 on staged handovers to Afghanistan security forces by 2014 is a good fit for Taliban's longstanding fundamental demand for foreign troops to quit Afghanistan as the precondition for talks on an end to the war that will restore them to power in Kabul, debkafile's military sources report.
Taliban's response Saturday night addressed elements left out of the NATO statement: The Americans and NATO face defeat in Afghanistan, said Taliban – notwithstanding US troops reinforcements and changes of generals – a jab at Gen. David Petraeus, who recently too over command of the war.
The Afghan insurgents took the NATO statement as the Western alliance's admission that it cannot defeat them, had in lost the will to do so and sought only an elegant way out of spelling out the word defeat; "transition" to Afghan security forces sounds more honorable.
But even that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are not willing to concede. Therefore, the fighting will continue to rage as Washington uses the NATO blueprint for maneuvers to open indirect or direct negotiations with the Taliban for ending the war.
The insurgents will moreover press their attacks – less to seize more territory than to drive bigger wedges among Western allies, taking advantage of the badly disunited front US President Barack Obama found in Lisbon.
Exit timelines vary from one NATO leader to another.
According to the summit document, "The transition process towards Afghan control of security matters is to begin in July of next year and end with full Afghan control by the end of 2014." The alliance also signed a document reinforcing its long-term commitment to Afghanistan's security even after NATO combat operations end.
2014 was not defined explicitly as the date for ending combat operations.
On administration official said Saturday that the President would personally decide when conditions were ready for US troops to draw down. The Pentagon called 2014 "aspirational" and US Secretary of State called it "a goal not a timeline."
Meanwhile, two of the larger NATO contingents are not waiting for any goals or timelines; they are on their way out of Afghanistan.
President Nicolas Sarkozy is getting ready to recall 3,850 French troops next year, while British Prime Minister David Cameron has withdrawn the 9,500-strong British contingent from direct combat activity. On Nov. 14, British Commander-in-Chief Gen. Sir David Richards said bluntly, "You can't defeat the Taliban or al Qaeda militarily, only contain them…"
The Western powers are even more at odds on the Iranian nuclear issue than they are on Afghanistan. No coherent, agreed plan for dealing with Iran's approaching attainment of a nuclear weapon has been laid out in Washington, London, Paris or Berlin – or even an agreed strategy for their nuclear talks with Iran early next month. Tehran, like the Taliban, is therefore preparing to harden its bargaining stance at those talks, encouraged by US-led Western retreats from Iraq, Lebanon and now Afghanistan to assume that Washington will continue to give way.