Wednesday, May 23, 2012

NATO Summit: Prepares Road Map, Joint Exit Strategy for Afghanistan

The two-day summit of the 28-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was held in Chicago, first on the US soil in more than a decade. Approximately 60 world leaders, including presidents of the United States, Afghanistan and Pakistan have gathered to attend one of the biggest NATO summits in history. Despite a myriad of issues facing the 63-year-old organization founded in the wake of the Second World War as it confronts shifting 21st-century realities, the Chicago summit is set to be dominated by Afghanistan.

The Chicago summit was significant as President Barack Obama has announced that all combat operations led by the US forces will cease in the summer of 2013 and the NATO forces would move to a “support role.” The summit aimed at charting out a road map of international support to Afghanistan and prepare a blueprint for a joint exit strategy.

Afghanistan War
NATO allies declared that the end of a long and unpopular Afghanistan war is in sight even as they struggled to hold their fighting force together as France’s new President announced plans to pull troops out early.

The fate of the war is the centre of the two-day NATO summit that opened in Chicago. The alliance already has one foot out of the Afghanistan door, with the Europeans pinching pennies in a debt crisis and President Obama with an ear attuned to the politics of an economy-driven presidential election year.

Still, some cautioned against following France’s example while others played down stresses in the fighting alliance.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said: “There will be no rush for the exits. Our goal, our strategy, our timetable remain unchanged.”

The military alliance is pledged to remain in Afghanistan till 2014, but will seal plans during the summit to shift foreign forces off the front lines a year faster than once planned.

Afghan forces will take the lead throughout the nation next year, instead of in 2014. The shift is in large part a response to the plummeting public support for the war in Europe and the United States, contributors of most of the 130,000 foreign troops now fighting the Taliban-led insurgency. A majority of Americans now say the war is unwinnable or not worth continuing.

Tough Time Ahead
The US president, who was hosting the summit in his hometown and the city where his reelection operation hums, spoke of a post-2014 world when “the Afghan war as we understand it is over.” Until then, though, remaining U.S. and allied troops face the continued likelihood of fierce combat.

Obama said: “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.”

In fact, the strategy has shifted many times over the course of more than 10 years of war, and the goal narrowed to objectives focused on the long-term security of the mostly Western nations fighting there. The timetable has also moved, despite the overall commitment to keep foreign forces in Afghanistan till 2014.

France’s Stand
Tension over newly elected French President Francois Hollande’s pledge to end his country’s combat mission two years early infused the meeting. German Chancellor Angela Merkel pointedly cited the credo of the allies in the Afghanistan war, “in together, out together,” and her foreign minister cautioned against a “withdrawal competition” by coalition countries.

The Taliban are urging nations fighting in Afghanistan to follow France’s lead and pull their international forces from the war this year.

The Chicago summit called upon all the other NATO member countries to avoid working for the political interests of the US officials and answer the call of your own people by immediately removing all your troops from Afghanistan,” the group said in a statement before the meeting.

Obama-Karzai Meet
Obama said that NATO envisions a decade of transformation after 2014, with the United States still contributing money and forces.

“What this NATO summit reflects is that the world is behind the strategy that we have laid out,” Obama said after lengthy talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. “Now it is our task to implement it effectively.”

Karzai said his nation is looking forward to the end of 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.”

Despite the stubborn Taliban insurgency, war-weary international forces are seeking to hand control of security to Afghan forces while withdrawing some 130,000 foreign combat troops by the end of 2014.

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