KABUL // The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, used a high-profile international conference in Kabul to confirm that his country aims to take responsibility for its own security by the end of 2014. His opening address at the summit today also demanded that his government have greater control over aid money. But it is the prospect of a significant reduction in foreign forces during the next few years that will reverberate most among the wider public here. Violence has risen sharply this summer as the Taliban begin to tighten their grip on parts of Afghanistan that were once regarded as hostile to the rebels. Despite warning foreign officials and diplomats that "we face a vicious common enemy", Mr Karzai signalled what may come to be seen as the beginning of the end of the US-led occupation. "I remain determined that our Afghan national security forces will be responsible for all military and law enforcement operations throughout our country by 2014," he said. Listening on were delegates including the co-host, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, and William Hague, the British foreign minister. The 2014 deadline reaffirms an earlier Nato commitment to begin handing over security soon, although officials are keen to rubbish talk of this being a withdrawal. It also comes on the back of a plan to start reducing US forces in July 2011. Mrs Clinton said: "The transition process is too important to push off indefinitely. But this date is the start of a new phase, not the end of our involvement. We have no intention of abandoning our long-term mission of achieving a stable, secure, peaceful Afghanistan." Other issues discussed at the conference have included a reintegration plan for militants and the prospect of a broader political settlement with the rebels.
The Nato secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said the alliance will never allow the Taliban to topple the government of Afghanistan. But he said that transition to Afghan-led security would be based on "conditions, not calendars."
The conference comes at a critical juncture in the war. NATO and Afghan forces are moving into areas controlled by the Taliban, and the insurgents are pushing back. June was the deadliest month for international forces with the deaths of 103 service members. In the latest violence today, a Nato service member was killed in a bomb attack in the south. Nato said the dead service member was not American but did not provide the nationality or details on the death.
Security forces virtually shut down Kabul for the conference. Police added checkpoints throughout the already heavily fortified city and closed major intersections to traffic. Afghan and international forces raided a compound on the outskirts of Kabul on Monday night, killing several insurgents who were believed to be planning an attack on the conference, NATO forces said in a statement. The international military coalition said its forces came under fire from men who were barricaded inside buildings in the compound. The statement said two people were arrested in the operation but not how many were killed. A military spokesman also declined to say how many people were killed in the operation. *With AP