NATO Leaders Focus on Afghanistan Transition Plan

Posted May 21st, 2012 at 11:00 am (UTC-5)
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NATO leaders are focusing on Afghanistan on the second and final day of the alliance's summit in Chicago, as they chart the path forward after a decade of war.

The officials are expected to finalize plans Monday to transition to Afghan-led security by the middle of next year, before the withdrawal of most foreign forces by 2014.

President Barack Obama said the transition is “well underway.” But vowed that the international community would not abandon Afghanistan as it seeks to take control of its own security. “As Afghans stand up,” Mr. Obama said, “they will not stand alone.”

NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said at the end of 2014, “NATO-led combat will end.” But he said there would be a NATO-led presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014 to advise, train and assist Afghan forces.

About 130,000 foreign troops remain in Afghanistan as part of the international coalition. Last week, newly elected French President Francois Hollande reaffirmed his pledge to pull out all French combat forces by the end of this year. France has about 3,300 troops in Afghanistan — the fifth-largest contribution in the coalition.

Leaders are also expected to discuss funding for Afghan security forces after 2014, which carries an estimated price tag of $4.1 billion a year. With the United States expected to cover a large portion of the bill, other NATO allies are being asked to provide about $1.3 billion a year.

U.S. and NATO officials emphasize that the outcome they seek is not to leave behind a perfect Afghanistan, but one that can stand on its own, even if it needs ongoing support from the international community.

Leaders from more than 50 nations held a moment of silence to pay tribute to thousands of coalition troops killed or wounded during the Afghan war.

Among the participants at the summit is Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, who was invited last week after Islamabad suggested it would soon re-open ground supply routes to U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Pakistan had closed its borders to NATO supply convoys after U.S.-led air strikes mistakenly killed 24 Pakistani soldiers along the Afghan border last November. The incident brought U.S.-Pakistani relations to a new low, but the two sides are now engaged in intense negotiations to finalize a deal to re-open the routes. Pakistan is seeking heavy taxes on future NATO convoys, a condition diplomatic sources say is hindering the talks.

President Obama met with Afghan leader Hamid Karzai Sunday, but his schedule did not include a one-on-one meeting with Mr. Zardari. The Pakistani leader did meet with President Karzai and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Chicago. The U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Marc Grossman, told VOA the meeting included “a complete review of all of our bilateral partnerships.” He said the purpose was to focus on “how to move forward in this relationship.”

Afghan presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi told VOA that Pakistan has a role in the complex peace process because the sanctuaries of Afghanistan's armed opposition remain in Pakistan.