Norway to start troop withdrawal

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Norway’s Defense Ministry announced on Monday that it will begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan this autumn, several months earlier than scheduled. Norway will end its presence in Faryab province in northwestern Afghanistan and then concentrate on operations in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif instead.

Norway will be leaving some parts of Afghanistan earlier than expected. PHOTO: Forsvaret

Original plans called for the Norwegian forces to remain in Faryab until 2013. Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide had said during a visit to Afghanistan in December that Norway planned to turn over responsibility for security operations to local forces later this year and be out of the area by the end of 2013. Now troops are due to pull out in October, after leaders of the the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) asked Norway to pull out of Faryab province earlier than planned..

The so-called Norwegian “stabilization” force has had responsibility for a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in the provincial center of Maimana. The goal has been to train local forces so that Afghan authorities can take over leadership of security operations in Faryab themselves.

PRT teams consist of both military and civilian security officers and also lead redevelopment efforts in their areas. The pull-out is part of the NATO-led operations’ strategy ahead of the full withdrawal of foreign forces in 2014. Eide was told during a visit to Kabul on Sunday that the pull-out of around 200 Norwegian soldiers was being accelerated.

“The process of turning over security responsibility in Faryab to the Afghan forces is already well underway,” Eide told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “The Afghans have led military operations in the province for a long time.”

He said the local forces were viewed as being able to assume responsibility sooner than expected. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been agitating for an early withdrawal of NATO troops.

The rest of Norway’s roughly 550 soldiers are expected to head for home during 2013. Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, who has made several trips to Afghanistan himself over the years, had said during the weekend that he thought developments “were going in the right direction” in Afghanistan.

“In many areas of Afghanistan, people have better lives and are more secure,” said Støre, who took part in the NATO meeting in Brussels last week. “But there’s still a war mentality in parts of the country. The political solution is still out of reach, and that makes us uneasy.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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