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maandag, mei 21, 2012

NATO debate Afghan exit plan

Police van drives through NATO protesters
  • President Barack Obama expects NATO nations to sign off on his exit strategy
  • Afghan President Hamid Karzai backs the plan that calls for all troops to leave by 2014
  • "The Afghan war as we understand it is over" after troops leave in 2014, Obama says

Chicago (CNN) -- NATO countries are expected to sign off Monday on U.S. President Barack Obama's exit strategy from Afghanistan that calls for an end to combat operations next year and the withdrawal of troops by the end of 2014.

Against a backdrop of massive demonstrations that saw violent clashes between protesters and police, NATO and world leaders gathered at the summit in Chicago to sketch out the end of an unpopular war and figure out how to pay for shoring up Afghanistan's security forces.

Obama made clear Sunday as the summit opened that he expects the NATO nations and their strategic partners to agree to the withdrawal plan, while assuring Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the 28-nation alliance would not abandon the country.

"Just as we have sacrificed together for our common security, we will stand together united in our determination to complete this mission," Obama said at the start of the summit.

Obama and Karzai, who met a day ahead of Monday's planned NATO talks on Afghanistan, both agreed that the end of the war was close at head.

President Obama's challenges

Following their meeting, Obama said the transition of the NATO-led International Assistance Security Force from a combat role to one of support of Afghan forces paints "a vision post-2014 in which we have ended our combat role, the Afghan war as we understand it is over."

What's next for NATO in Afghanistan?

Karzai, meanwhile, reiterated his commitment to the timetable, "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.

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"Afghanistan, indeed, Mr. President, as you very rightly put it, is looking forward to an end to this war, and a transformational decade," he said.

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Under Obama's plan, reminiscent of the Iraq withdrawal, security for Afghanistan would transition to Afghan forces by the middle of next year. NATO troops would then remain in training and advisory role to help beef up Afghan forces until their withdrawal at the end of 2014.

Seeking to reassure Afghans that the 28-member alliance would not abandon them, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen pledged "there will be no rush for the exits."

"Once the Afghans have full responsibility by the end of 2014, our combat mission will come to an end. But we will not walk away," he added later in the day.

A small contingent of British forces could remain after NATO forces leave in 2014, a senior British official said. A senior U.S. official said the United Kingdom may keep some troops in Afghanistan post-2014 for counter-terrorism purposes. Both officials requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

"I don't want to understate the challenge that we have ahead of us. The Taliban is a resilient and capable opponent," Marine Gen. John Allen, commander of ISAF troops, said Sunday.

"We fully expect that combat is going to continue" as troops are gradually withdrawn over the next 2 � years."

One of the key issues to be considered Monday by NATO leaders is who will pay for the buildup of Afghan forces as ISAF draws down its troops. Afghan security forces are expected to total 350,000 by 2015.

Karzai can only afford to cover a fraction of the cost of building up his country's forces. The cost of building up forces is expected to total roughly $4 billion annually by 2014.

Rasmussen said Sunday that he was optimistic that other countries will contribute.

As expected, France's new president, Francois Hollande, announced the withdrawal of French combat troops from Afghanistan by year's end. As part of ISAF, French trainers will remain.

A Taliban spokesman called on NATO nations to follow France's lead.

"We call upon all the other NATO member countries to avoid working for the political interests of American officials and answer the call of your own people by immediately removing all your troops from Afghanistan," Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said in a statement.

Also at issue at the NATO summit is Islamabad's continued blockade of much-needed NATO supplies shipped over Pakistani roads to Afghanistan.

Pakistan closed the ground routes after a NATO airstrike in November killed two dozen of its soldiers. NATO insists the incident was an accident. Obama offered his condolences but refused to apologize.

The United States and Pakistan have not come to an agreement on the price of opening the supply lines, according to senior administration officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Without a deal, the officials said Obama would not meet with President Asif Ali Zardari at the summit. The two were scheduled to hold trilateral talks with Karzai on political reconciliation in Afghanistan. Pakistan's support in reaching a deal with the Taliban is seen as critical in ending the war in Afghanistan.

CNN's Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.


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