NATO chief vows not to abandon Afghanistan

SYDNEY - NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen Wednesday vowed not to abandon Afghanistan as foreign nations plan to transition forces out of the country.

"We will not abandon Afghanistan, we will not leave behind a security vacuum," he told a National Press Club lunch in Canberra, adding he expected Afghan President Hamid Karzai to stand down as planned at the next election.

Secretary General Rasmussen said the international community had a "common interest in and a common responsibility" to see the decade-long intervention into Afghanistan through to a successful end.

"There may be partners, may be allies, who will reduce their troops' presence during the transition period but they have declared they will stay committed throughout the transition until the end of 2014," he said.

"All 50 nations within our ISAF (the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force) coalition have sent the clear message 'in together, out together', and that's a basic principle."

Rasmussen said he understood impatience regarding Afghanistan's long-running conflict, saying people "want to see the light at the end of the tunnel".

"People want to see progress, so do I," he said, adding that foreign forces had deployed to Afghanistan to prevent the country from once again becoming a safe haven for terrorists from which to launch attacks.

"Despite this impatience, all ISAF coalition partners have decided to stay committed, to see this operation though to a successful end. And that's encouraging despite the economic crisis and declining public support."

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