Chicago summit to lay out map of Afghan support

Washington: Nearly 60 world leaders, including Presidents of the US, Afghanistan and Pakistan have gathered in Chicago for the key NATO Summit beginning today, aimed at charting out a road map of international support to Kabul and prepare a blueprint for a joint exit strategy.

The two-day summit of the 28-member North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, first on US soil in more than a decade, is significant as President Barack Obama has announced that all combat operations led by US forces will cease in the summer of 2013 and the NATO forces would move to a "support role".

"We will lay out how we will continue to support Afghanistan, and its people, beyond that date. We expect to have a new mission, to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces so they remain strong in the years to come," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on the eve of the summit.

"We will also play a full part in sustaining the Afghan forces. But there is an important role for other members of the international community too. Particularly in the areas of reconstruction and development, and also in helping the Afghan authorities to build the institutions that are necessary to run a country effectively and fairly," Rasmussen said.

He said that over the next two days the participants will take stock of the progress they are making in Afghanistan. "And we will set out our plans for the future. Our goal is to make sure that Afghanistan will never again be a safe haven for terrorists. Terrorists who used the sanctuary of that country to plan horrendous attacks such as those on 9/11," he said.

Noting that good progress is being made towards that goal, he said with the help of NATO and US forces Afghan forces are already in the lead for providing security for half the country`s population.

The summit of the 63-year-old NATO, founded after the World War II to counter Communist bloc, in Obama`s hometown is likely to be dominated by Afghanistan.
Among the world leaders at the summit will be Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari, who was extended a last-minute invitation to attend.

The invite was extended to Zardari after Pakistan said that it was closer to a deal with the US on reopening NATO supply routes into Afghanistan which were closed in November after cross border air raid that killed 26 Pakistani soldiers.

Despite the Taliban`s regular attacks on Afghan security and political installations, the NATO-led forces are seeking to hand control of security to Afghan forces while withdrawing some 130,000 foreign combat troops by the end of 2014. "We can`t solve the problems in Afghanistan without the positive engagement of Pakistan," NATO Secretary General Rasmussen said.

Meanwhile, France`s new President Francois Hollande has vowed to bring his 3,500 combat troops home by the end of this year, a year earlier than planned. Britain also plans to withdraw 500 soldiers from its 9,500-strong force this year, with Afghan security forces due to take over responsibility for security by the end of 2014.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has set a deadline of the end of December 2014 for Britain to stop all of its combat operations. However, up to 200 British special force soldiers could remain deployed in Afghanistan to help combat terrorism after troops withdrawal.