Brussels: NATO allies on Saturday agreed to new rules under which they can withdraw their troops from Afghanistan as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates slammed "too much talk about leaving."

Alliance Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced the deal, looking ahead to a 2014 deadline to pass control to Afghan security forces after Gates warned that early withdrawal would jeopardise the war effort just as the
Taliban has lost the upper hand.

"Frankly, there is too much talk about leaving and not enough talk about getting the job done right. Too much discussion of exit and not enough discussion about the fight," Gates said according to a text of his speech.

"Too much concern about when and how many troops might redeploy, and not enough about what needs to be done before they leave," he said.

"Ministers discussed and agreed principles by which we will (manage) transition," Rasmussen said after talks among the 28 NATO countries and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) partners, not all of whom contribute soldiers.

He said that while the gradual "thinning out" of ISAF forces in particular provinces would accelerate, "redeployment and reinvestment ... remains a NATO responsibility."

Rasmussen said there had to be "coherence" so that "national decisions take into account overall force requirements."

That would mean "relocation" for some troops on active duty, although forces would remain in the line of fire "not a day longer" than needed, and "reconfiguration" for others, whereby "combat forces could be moved into training."

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said earlier this week that "five to six places" would be handed over initially.

"The final decision will be made by President Karzai," Rasmussen said of the formal announcement due on March 21, the first day of the Afgahn New Year.

According to a NATO European military official, early withdrawal plans by Canada and the Netherlands gave "a very poor signal" and Germany has already made known it is likely to follow next year.

There are currently around 140,000 international troops in Afghanistan, around two-thirds of them from the United States.

Washington plans to start withdrawing some of its troops in July at the same time as Afghan forces begin to take over security.

Out of the roughly 140,000 troops in the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, 97,000 are American, with the war costing the United States USD 10 billion a month.

Afghan national security force numbers have built up to current levels of 140,000 soldiers and 100,000 police, trained and armed by the NATO allies.

End operations, urges Karzai

Menahwile, emotional Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged international troops to
"stop their operations in our land", his strongest salvo yet in a row over mistaken civilian killings.

Karzai's comments came after a week in which a relative of his was killed in a raid by foreign forces and he rejected an apology by the US commander of troops General
David Petraeus for the deaths of nine children in a NATO strike.

"I would like to ask NATO and the US with honour and humbleness and not with arrogance to stop their operations in our land," Karzai said, visiting the dead children's relatives in Kunar province, eastern Afghanistan.

"We are very tolerant people but now our tolerance has run out."

(Agencies)