As world leaders struggle to work out details of an exit strategy from Afghanistan, police pushed back hundreds of protesters who were trying to reach the site of the NATO summit in Chicago this week.
Within the summit’s walls, President Obama spoke of the need for continued support of the NATO mission in Afghanistan until most troops leave by 2014. He is also seeking $1.3 billion in assistance from allies toward the estimated $4.1 billion cost to maintain Afghan forces after 2014.
At Monday’s International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) meeting, President Obama outlined the benchmarks for wrapping up the mission:
Today, we’ll decide the next phase of the transition — the next milestone. We’ll set a goal for Afghan forces to take the lead for combat operations across the country in 2013 — next year — so that ISAF can move to a supporting role. This will be another step toward Afghans taking full lead for their security as agreed to by 2014 when the ISAF combat mission will end.
Today is also an opportunity to ensure our hard-won progress is preserved. The Strategic Partnership Agreement that President Karzai and I signed in Kabul ensures that as Afghans stand up they will not stand alone. Today, we can agree on NATO’s long-term relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014, including our support of Afghan security forces.
Retired Army Col. David Lamm, who was the chief of staff at coalition headquarters in Afghanistan from 2004 to 2005, told deputy foreign affairs editor Daniel Sagalyn that Western and NATO member countries don’t have the best track record for fulfilling pledges to Afghanistan.
Since 2006, the international community has pledged more than it actually delivers, especially since there are no enforcement mechanisms for pledges, Lamm said.
The Afghan government, whose revenue hovers at about $2 billion, actually needs about $12 billion to sustain the army and police — the difference of which will have to come from pledges, which don’t appear likely to come to fruition, he said.
Another hurdle at the summit is Pakistan’s refusal to reopen its NATO supply routes to Afghanistan. Despite Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s last-minute invitation to the NATO summit, an agreement appeared elusive.
Pakistan cut off the supply routes after U.S.-Afghan coalition forces fired upon two Pakistani military checkpoints near the Afghan border on Nov. 26, killing 24 Pakistani soldiers. Both sides said they were fired upon first. The Pakistani government is seeking a public apology for the incident.
The U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, told Reuters he was confident a deal would be struck eventually, but “whether it’s in days or weeks, I don’t know.” (Read Reuters’ full story.)