NATO agreed Friday to begin handing over control of Afghanistan to the Afghan government this year, a process that if successful would enable President Barack Obama to meet his target date of July 2011 for starting to bring U.S. troops home.
But the accord appeared short on details and timelines, and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned of a rocky road ahead in a country beset with a resilient insurgency, limited resources and a weak, sometimes dysfunctional central government.
Clinton said she was pleased with progress toward eliminating the shortage of allied trainers for the Afghan army and police. She offered a generally sunny outlook for Afghanistan and said the government of much-criticized President Hamid Karzai gets too little credit for progress in building a viable democracy.
"We believe that with sufficient attention, training and mentoring, the Afghans themselves are perfectly capable of defending themselves against insurgents," she told a news conference. "Does that mean it will be smooth sailing? I don't think so. Look at Iraq."
NATO is still about 450 short of its target for a training force to assist the Afghan security forces, and while that gap apparently was not filled during Friday's session, Clinton said she was not discouraged.