Petraeus draws up timetable for withdrawal

THE US commander in Afghanistan has drawn up a colour-coded timetable for the handing over of control of its provinces to local security forces.

A handful of areas in Afghanistan have been stamped “green”, signalling that they have been earmarked for a handover in the spring.

The plan, which was drawn up by General David Petraeus, is to be presented to Nato leaders at the summit of alliance leaders in Lisbon on November 19.

The colours range from green to grey, the latter being the most problematic, indicating that the handover is more than two years away. Provinces such as Helmand, Kandahar and Uruzgan in the south, and Kunar in the east, fall into this category.

A monthly security assessment of every part of Afghanistan will continue right up until the summit but it is understood that General Petraeus is sufficiently confident to assign a colour code to each area to demonstrate that significant progress is being made.

The general, who commands about 100,000 American troops and 50,000 other Nato forces including 1550 Australian troops, believes that areas coded green are ready for transition to Afghan security forces within six months.

Alliance diplomatic sources told The Times it was possible that some of the districts coded green could be handed back by February or March next year. The other codes are yellow, indicating transition in 12 months, orange for 18 months, red for 24 months and grey for more than two years.

The sources said that the colour-code chart would not be published because General Petraeus did not want provinces and districts to become a “bull’s-eye” target for the Taleban.

However, they said it was clear that the most likely green zones would be in western and northern Afghanistan. The most recent security assessments of Herat in the west have suggested that it is ready for transition to Afghan control almost immediately. Farah province in the southwest, where the Taleban have been active, is more likely to be stamped yellow or orange.

Afghanistan has 34 provinces and most of the Taleban-related violence has occurred in nine, all in the south and east. Of Afghanistan’s more than 300 districts within the 34 provinces it is estimated that about two-thirds could be handed over without significant risk.

The sources said that General Petraeus would make it clear to the Nato summit in Lisbon that transition would be a gradual process. As Nato troops thinned out Afghan forces would increase in each area. Kabul is already under Afghan security control.

The plan, which is expected to be given full support at the summit, will allow President Obama to fulfil his pledge to begin withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan from July next year.

Most of the US combat troops are in areas where there is continuous confrontation with the Taleban and other insurgents. None of the US Marines in Helmand will be going home next July. They, and the British troops in Helmand, expect to be part of the campaign for another three or four years.

The diplomatic sources said it was felt that Nato troops of the International Security Assistance Force, backed by Afghan army and police, had gained significant momentum.

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