LONDON (Reuters) - Setting timetables to withdraw from the war in Afghanistan could encourage the Taliban to step up their attacks on coalition forces, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a newspaper report on Tuesday.
“The Taliban follow the political debate in troop contributing countries closely,” Rasmussen told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
“If they discover that through their attacks, they can weaken the support for our presence in Afghanistan, they will just be encouraged to step up their attacks on foreign troops,” he said.
Record casualties in June have undermined public support for the war in allied NATO countries.
Canada, the Netherlands and Poland have announced plans to withdraw troops, while Prime Minister David Cameron has said he would like to see British troops pull out of Afghanistan within five years.
But Rasmussen said NATO countries should only withdraw troops when “the Afghans can actually take responsibility for themselves.”
“We can have our hopes, we can have our expectations, but I cannot give any guarantee as far as an exact date or year is concerned.”
Rasmussen said a premature withdrawal from Afghanistan could make the West vulnerable to a renewed terrorist threat from al Qaeda and risk destabilising neighbouring Pakistan.
“The Taliban would return to Afghanistan and Afghanistan would once again become a safe haven for terrorist groups who would use it as a launch pad for terrorist attacks on North America and Europe,” he said.
Rasmussen also said cuts to defence budgets could limit the ability of European countries to work with U.S. troops in the future because of a shortage of up-to-date technology.
“Militarily, in the case that we would like to co-operate with the Americans, we might end up in an absurd situation where we can’t because of an extreme technology gap,” he said.
Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton