A two-day NATO summit on Afghanistan opened in the U.S. city of Chicago on Sunday, with more than 50 world leaders in attendance.
The summit is aimed at charting out the future of Afghanistan after the planned withdrawal of the Western Alliance's troops from the South Asian nation by the end of 2014.
Opening the summit, U.S. President Barack Obama commented on the strength of the military alliance and reaffirmed continued American support for the Afghan government after the planned troop withdrawal. He also urged other members of the international community to continue supporting the Afghan government even after the NATO troop pullout.
"For over 65 years our alliance has been the bedrock of our common security, our freedom and our prosperity, and although times have changed the reasons for our alliance has not," Obama told the summit in his opening address.
Urging fellow NATO states to "pool resources" to help Afghanistan after the eventual withdrawal of NATO forces, Obama said: "Just as we've sacrificed together for our common security, we will stand united in our determination to complete this mission."
He also appealed to other NATO leaders attending the summit to ratify a "broad consensus" for handing over security responsibilities in Afghanistan to the Afghan security forces in a gradual manner and pulling out most of the alliance troops from the war-torn nation by the end of 2014.
The two-day summit is mainly aimed at finalizing the sharing of the 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 opened on Sunday afternoon and extends through Monday, is being attended by more than 50 world leaders. Besides Afghan President Hamid Karzai, leaders of the 28 NATO member-nations as well as Pakistani President President Asif Ali Zardari are participating in the summit.
Ahead of opening the summit, Obama told Karzai at a joint press conference held after a meting between the two that the NATO 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 and stressed that Afghans were looking forward to the end of the war "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."
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 of a unified pullout.
"French combat troops will be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of the year. In 2013, only trainers for police and officers of the Afghan army will remain and this will be done within the framework of ISAF," Hollande told reporters, referring to the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan by its acronym.
Nevertheless, differences among NATO members on the 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."
Further, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: "There will be no rush for the exits. We will stay committed and see it through to a successful end. Our goal, our strategy, our timetable remain unchanged."
Currently, there are over 130,000 foreign troops from more than 42 countries under the joint command of the NATO and the United States in Afghanistan to contain a resurgent Taliban in the war-ravaged country. The U.S. and other allied nations involved in the Afghan mission are currently making serious efforts to get the Afghan security forces ready and capable of handling the country's security before the international coalition troops' pullout by the end of 2014.
by RTT Staff Writer
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