By Dan Robinson
U.S. President Barack Obama and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai met on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Chicago on Sunday, reaffirming a shared vision of creating a secure and stable Afghanistan.
Mr. Obama referred to what he called the “broad consensus” of the International Security Assistance Force on a complete transition to Afghan-led security, and the need for continuing international support. “Also painting a vision post-2014 in which we have ended our combat role, the Afghan war as we understand it is over, but commitment to friendship and partnership with Afghanistan continues,” he said.
Mr. Obama said the Strategic Partnership Agreement he and Mr. Karzai signed earlier this month is part of a shared vision for Afghanistan transitioning from decades of war to “a transformational decade of peace, stability and development.”
President Karzai said he reaffirmed his government’s commitment to completing a transition to Afghan-led security by 2013, on the way to the complete withdrawal of foreign forces in 2014, so Afghanistan is “no longer a burden” on the international community.
But the Afghan president said his country requires ongoing support. “In the meantime, the world community, in particular the United States, and our allies in NATO and ISAF will be with us to make sure that we take steady and strong steps, and are backed while we are making those steps toward 2024, when Afghanistan will be largely defending itself and providing for itself,” he said.
President Obama said President Karzai recognized “the enormous sacrifices” made by the American people and U.S. forces in Afghanistan and by troops of other coalition partners.
Although Mr. Obama said more lives will be lost in Afghanistan, he and Mr. Karzai are confident that NATO and Afghanistan are on the right track. “There will be hard days ahead, but we’re confident that we are on the right track and what this NATO summit reflects that the world is behind the strategy that we have laid out,” he said.
Earlier, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is committed to helping Afghanistan sustain security, including training for the Afghan military as the International Security Assistance Force withdraws.
“There will be no rush for the exits, we will stay committed to our operation in Afghanistan and see it through to a successful end. Our goal, our strategy, our timetable remain unchanged,” he said.
Rasmussen noted that although France’s President Francois Hollande has reaffirmed his plan to withdraw French troops by the end of this year, he added that Mr. Hollande says France will support Afghanistan in other ways.