U.S. President Barack Obama on Sunday warned of "hard days ahead" in Afghanistan and noted the pivotal role played by the NATO alliance in moving the war-torn South Asian country towards peace and stability since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
"We still have a lot of work to do and there will be great challenges ahead. The loss of life continues in Afghanistan and there will be hard days ahead," Obama said.
He made the remarks at a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai after a meeting between the two on the sidelines of a NATO summit in Chicago. The summit is aimed at charting out the future of Afghanistan after the planned withdrawal of foreign coalition troops from the country by the end of 2014.
Noting the huge sacrifices made by the American people over the past decade in guiding Afghanistan towards peace, stability and progress, Obama stressed that end of the ongoing conflict is now in sight.
He said NATO leaders attending the two-day summit would discuss "a vision for post-2014 in which we have ended our combat role, the Afghan war as we understand it is over, but our commitment to friendship and partnership to Afghanistan continues."
In his response, Karzai thanked the Americans for their help in rebuilding his country as well as guiding it towards stability. He said the Afghan people were aware of the "task ahead and of what Afghanistan needs to do to reach the objectives that we all have of a stable, peaceful and self-reliant Afghanistan."
Karzai also stressed that his country was also looking forward to the end of the war as "so that Afghanistan is no longer a burden on the shoulder of our friends in the international community, on the shoulders of the United States and our other allies."
The Chicago summit is mainly aimed at finalizing the sharing of financial assistance needed to continue supporting the Afghan government after the withdrawal of foreign troops, and other matters related to post-conflict issues. It is understood that the United States is expected to shell out at least half of the estimated $4 billion required annually.
The summit, which extends through Sunday and Monday, is being attended by more than 50 world leaders. Besides Afghan President, leaders of the 28 NATO member-nations as well as Pakistani President President Asif Ali Zardari is in Chicago to attend the summit
Earlier in the day, newly-elected French President Francois Hollande told reporters in New York that he intended to withdraw French troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, two years ahead of the Alliance's timetable for a unified pullout.
Differences among NATO members on withdrawal of their troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014 came into the open on Sunday after German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed that her country stood "very firmly" behind the principle of "in together, out together."
by RTT Staff Writer
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