Let's see - Spring, 2008. That's just a year and a half from right now. By then, we're told, the Afghan Army will be ready to start taking control of the country's security. This from Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, NATO Secretary General. Of course, Jaap has left himself a world of wiggle room. He qualified his prediction by saying the Afghan Army will "be gradually taking control."
That could mean anything from safeguarding the presidential latrine to securing some of the tame provinces in the north. Just don't expect them to be taking over in Helmand or Kandahar provinces by then. No, we'll probably still be there for that job.
It looks as though President Bush and de Hoop Scheffer were successful in strongarming some concessions from France, Germany, Italy and Spain, albeit begrudgingly. They've sort of said their troops might be authorized to take part in combat in the south in certain circumstances.
France said it will decide on combat deployment on a case by case basis. Spain and Italy said their contingent might be made available to fight "in extreme circumstances." Ditto for Germany.
Now you would have thought the NATO leaders would feel secure in Riga, Latvia but guess again. According to the Times of London, the summit is defended by 7,000 Latvian troops and 2,000 NATO soldiers backed by helicopters and two warships in Riga's harbour.
The NATO Secretary General's remarks about handover are a sop to those who need to tell their constituents that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Actually wishy-washy seems an apt description of the summit so far.
It would be interesting to know how much damage we need to inflict on the Taliban and rebellious peasants before Afghanistan will be safe to hand over to any Afghan Army. At the end of the day, can we kill enough of them to make a difference?