"Today marks the beginning of a new phase in our mission in Afghanistan. We will launch the process by which the Afghan government government will take leadership for security throughout the country, district by district, province by province. The direction, starting today, is clear: towards Afghan leadership, and Afghan ownership. That is the vision president Karzai has set out. It is a vision we share, and we will make it a reality, starting early next year", the NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, stressed at the beginning of the ISAF meeting.
He emphasized: "but let there be no doubt of our continuing commitment. Afghanistan's fight against terrorism is of strategic global importance. Success matters as much to us as it does to the Afghan people".
"Here in Lisbon we have launched the process by which the Afghan people will once again become masters of their own house", said Rasmussen after the meeting in a joint press conference with president Karzai and the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon.
He explained that "starting early next year, Afghan forces will begin taking the lead for security operations. This will begin in certain districts and provinces, and based on conditions, will gradually expand throughout the country. The aim is for the Afghan forces to be in the lead country-wide by the end of 2014".
According to Rasmussen, "NATO is in this for the long-term. We will not transition until our Afghan partners are ready. We will stay, after transition in a supporting role. And as you just saw, president Karzai and I have signed an agreement on a long-term partnership between NATO and Afghanistan that will endure beyond our combat mission".
"But of course, we cannot succeed alone. The military is necessary, but we need a true comprehensive approach. That is a clear lesson of our experience in Afghanistan", the Secretary General emphasised.
Rasmussen mentioned that "Afghanistan has brought the UN and NATO closer together than ever in our histories. And we will have much more to do together, to help Afghanistan find the peace, security and devlopment its people deserve".
The assembled ISAF leaders particularly welcomed in their meeting the progress in building up the strength, equipment and capabilities of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) which are increasingly taking the lead in joint operations in the most challenging areas. Afghan Security Forces are on track to reach 300,000 by the end of 2011 and are improving in quality, notably through the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan. The NATO Secretary General reminded the leaders that ANSF growth and development is at the core of the ISAF mission and essential to a sustainable transition.
ISAF contributing nations also reaffirmed their support for the Afghan-led process of reconciliation and re-integration as a key part of achieving lasting stability in the country. There was also agreement that these Afghan-led efforts to reconcile and re-integrate insurgents are for those fighters who renounce violence, cut links with terrorist groups and accept the Afghan constitution.
Finally, the Heads of State and Government of the ISAF nations welcomed the participation of President Karzai, the United Nations Secretary General, representatives of the European Union, the World Bank, and Japan all of whom share a vision for a better future of Afghanistan.