Feb. 3 - NATO chief says forces will continue combat role in Afghanistan until the end of 2014. Deborah Lutterbeck reports.
An exit strategy for Afghanistan. For the second day in a row, NATO Defense Ministers met in Brussels Friday to discuss winding down NATO's International Security Assistance Force operation. In an effort to clear up confusion over the exit date, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen says all contributing nations have agreed to stay until the end of 2014. On Wednesday U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta surprised allies by suggesting the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan would end in 2013, the first time Washington had floated such a deadline. 22. (SOUNDBITE) (English) NATO SECRETARY GENERAL ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN SAYING: "I can report to you today that all fifty ISAF partners stay committed to the Lisbon roadmap and to our mission throughout the period described in the Lisbon roadmap, that is until the end of 2014. That is a fact." He says NATO's mission will be in a period of transition (SOUNDBITE) (English) NATO SECRETARY GENERAL ANDERS FOGH RASMUSSEN SAYING: "During that period of transition you will of course see a gradual change of the role of our forces from combat to support. You might say that the focus will shift from combat to support, but combat operations will still be needed, during that period of transition. So there will be no disengagement from combat operations during the period of transition." French Minister of Defense Gerard Longuet says France wants to start withdrawing troops in March 2012. 15. (SOUNDBITE) (French) FRENCH DEFENSE MINISTER, GERARD LONGUET, SAYING: "We will stop by the summer 2013. You need more than one year, you need more than one year for technical and military reasons and to organize the transfer. It doesn't take place overnight." Final decisions on the pace of troops withdrawals from Afghanistan and the hand-over to forces loyal to Afghan President Hamid Karzai are not due to be made until U.S. President Barack Obama and fellow NATO leaders hold a summit in Chicago in May. Deborah Lutterbeck, Reuters.