US President Barack Obama and NATO allies were to focus yesterday on logistical aspects of ending the protracted Afghan war after Afghan President Hamid Karzai vowed his country would no longer be a “burden” for the international community.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari’s attendance at the summit had raised hopes his government was ready to lift a blockade on NATO convoys, but talks on reopening the routes have stumbled over Islamabad’s demand to charge steep fees for trucks crossing the border.
Zardari and leaders from 30 other nations and international organizations were to join the 28 NATO allies for yesterday’s second day of talks.
Leaders of the 28 NATO nations stood in solemn silence as a bugler’s lament recalled the heavy cost of a conflict that has killed more than 3,000 coalition soldiers, maimed thousands more and left tens of thousands of Afghans dead.
As anti-war protesters clashed with police near the Chicago summit site, the two-day talks aimed to endorse a withdrawal strategy and seek firm commitments from allies to train and bankroll Afghan forces.
Before the summit, US President Barack Obama held talks with Karzai, three weeks after his dramatic trip to Kabul where the two leaders signed a security pact for going forward after the last 130,000 international troops withdraw in late 2014.
In a sign of growing impatience within the alliance, new French President Francois Hollande refused to back down from his decision to pull troops out this year, a year earlier than planned.
“I told everyone I spoke with that this was not negotiable because it was a question of French sovereignty and everyone understood,” he said, adding that France would continue to train Afghan forces after this year.
Karzai said his country no longer wanted to be a “burden,” urging the international community to complete a security transition to his Afghan forces.
“Afghanistan ... is looking forward to an end to this war and a transformational decade in which Afghanistan will be working further for institution-building and the development of sound governance in the country,” he said.
Along with reaffirming the 2014 deadline, the summit was expected to back Obama’s plan to cede the lead in combat missions to Afghan troops next year, while making a commitment to securing US$4 billion annually for Afghan forces.
A Western official said on Sunday that nations with troops in Afghanistan had pledged roughly US$1 billion to bankroll Afghan security forces after 2014. The bulk of the funding is expected to come from the US.
In a sign of the waning appetite for further conflict, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the Western defense alliance “has no intention to intervene” in Syria despite concern at the bloodshed there.
The summit in Obama’s hometown went ahead under a massive security operation as normally bustling Chicago streets were deserted.
Boats with machine guns patrolled a river near Obama’s hotel and police enforced a wide security perimeter around the conference center.