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Nato pledge on Afghan troop numbers

The Nato chief has pledged the alliance will hand over responsibility for securing Afghanistan to its domestic forces by the end of 2014 as scheduled.

Secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen spoke during a visit to an Afghan base outside the capital Kabul.

He said that what he had seen in touring the country had made him more confident that Nato would meet the 2014 goal.

Mr Rasmussen said the Afghan special forces are "some of the best in the world" and "the backbone of our strategy for handing over".

He stressed that funding and training of Afghan troops by Nato would continue after 2014.

Meanwhile, Admiral Bill McRaven, the head of US special operations, is mapping out a potential post-2012 strategy that would replace thousands of US troops with small special operations teams paired with Afghans to help an inexperienced domestic force withstand a Taliban onslaught as US troops withdraw.

While the overall campaign would still be led by conventional military, the handfuls of special operators would become the leading force to help Afghans secure the large tracts of territory won in more than a decade of US combat. They would give the Afghans practical advice on how to repel attacks, intelligence to help spot the enemy and communications to help call for US air support if overwhelmed by a superior force.

If approved by the administration, the pared-down structure could become the enduring force that Afghan defence minister Abdul Rahim Wardak indicated at the Pentagon that his country needs, possibly long after the US drawdown.

Adm McRaven's proposal amounts to a slimmed-down counterinsurgency strategy aimed at protecting the Afghan population as well as hunting the Taliban and al Qaida. It is not the counterterrorist plan advanced by vice president Joe Biden, which would leave Afghan forces to fend for themselves while keeping US special operators in protected bases from which they could hunt terrorists with minimum risk, according to a senior special operations official reached this week.

Thousands of US troops could remain in harm's way well after the end of combat operations in 2014, tasked with helping Afghans protect territory won by US forces.

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