Amid tight security in the Afghan capital of Kabul, rocket fire at the international airport forced a plane carrying U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Swedish foreign minister to a one-day conference to be diverted this morning to Bagram air base, according to media reports. The diplomats traveled by helicopter to Kabul.
At an Afghan military training base, an Afghan solider opened fire in violence that left the gunman, another Afghan soldier and two American civilians dead, The Associated Press reported.
Delegates to the international conference supported Karzai's plan, first outlined in November, according to reports. Today's meeting involved delegates from some 70 countries that have troops in Afghanistan or give aid to the embattled country, still mired in fierce battles with the Taliban nearly nine years after Sept. 11, 2001. Ki-moon said the conference marks the "beginning of a very fundamental transition" to Afghan control.
Karzai told the conference that his country's army and police won't be ready to take full charge of security in Afghanistan for four more years.
"I remain determined that our Afghan national security forces will be responsible for all military and law enforcement operations throughout our country by 2014," Karzai told delegates in comments reported by the Los Angeles Times and other news outlets.
Clinton told the conference in Kabul today that the U.S. and the world will stand with Afghanistan even after Washington begins withdrawing its troops next summer.
"The July 2011 date captures both our sense of urgency and the strength of our resolve," Clinton said, referring to the planned drawdown of U.S. troops. "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," Clinton told the conference of Afghan officials and their NATO backers in comments reported by The Associated Press. "We have no intention of abandoning our long-term mission of achieving a stable, secure, peaceful Afghanistan."
Beforehand, Clinton told the BBC the conference represents a "stock-taking, bringing everybody to the table, asking for reports from the Afghan government and frankly having a very open exchange."
With the scheduled draw-down next year of U.S. troops -- the largest contingent within the 150,000-strong NATO force in Afghanistan -- and Afghan troops not being ready to take complete control until 2014, the timeline leaves a three-year gap. Some fear the Taliban may try to regroup and reassert control during that period.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen sought to allay such fears. He said that there would be no quick withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan and that any transitions would rely on "conditions, not calendars."
"International forces won't leave; they will simply move into a supportive role," Rasmussen said, according to The Guardian. "Transition will be done gradually -- on the basis of a sober assessment of the political and security situation, so that it is irreversible."
Today's conference comes at a critical time in the nine-year-old war there. Last month was the deadliest ever for foreign forces in Afghanistan, with 103 NATO troops killed, including 60 Americans. The U.S. has deployed additional soldiers into the country, who are taking up positions mostly in the volatile south and making more battle contact with the Taliban and allied militants.