NATO chief warns against premature Afghan withdrawal

If Western forces leave Afghan prematurely, the country would become a safe haven for terrorist groups.

Updated: Jul 13, 2010, 18:40 PM IST

London: If Western forces leave
Afghanistan prematurely, the country would become a safe haven
for terrorist groups and it would run the risk of the entire
region becoming destabilise, the NATO chief has warned.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the NATO secretary-general, is
insisting that Western nations must keep troops in Afghanistan
"as long as necessary" and not set clear timelines for

"If we were to leave Afghanistan prematurely, the
Taliban would return and Afghanistan would once again become a
safe have for terrorist groups who would use it as a launch
pad for terrorist attacks on North America and Europe."

"There would also be a risk of destabilising a
neighbouring country, Pakistan, a nuclear power. That would be
very dangerous," the NATO chief told the paper.

While sharing the "impatience" of Western leaders to
leave Afghanistan, Rasmussen said: "We can have our hopes, we
can have our expectations, but I cannot give any guarantee as
far as any exact date or year is concerned."

NATO and the US have more than 140,000 troops in
Afghanistan with another 10,000 due in coming weeks as the
Western forces prepare for a major onslaught to clear Taliban
from their heartland of Kandahar.

The NATO chief said the coming battle for Kandahar as
well as ongoing one for Helmand would be decisive turning
point in Afghanistan.

"If they lose Helmand and Kandahar, they lose
everything, so they will fight hard to prevent that happening.