US President Barack Obama’s administration yesterday declared Afghanistan the US’ newest “major non-NATO ally,” an action designed to facilitate close defense cooperation after US combat troops withdraw from the country in 2014 and as a political statement of support for Afghanistan’s long-term stability.
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made the announcement shortly after arriving in the country for talks with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
“We see this as a powerful commitment to Afghanistan’s future,” she said at a news conference in the grand courtyard of Kabul’s Presidential Palace. “We are not even imagining abandoning Afghanistan.”
Clinton said that progress was coming incrementally, but consistently to the war-torn nation after decades of conflict.
“The security situation is more stable,” she said.
Afghan forces “are improving their capacity,” she added.
At the news conference, Karzai welcomed Clinton to Kabul and thanked the US for its continued support.
Clinton repeated the tenets of the US’ “fight, talk, build” strategy for Afghanistan. The goal aims first to defeat dangerous extremists, win over Taliban militants and others willing to give up violence and help in the long reconstruction of Afghanistan ahead.
Fighting still rages as Afghan and US-led coalition forces battle insurgents, mostly in the eastern part of the country. Although casualties have fallen among foreign forces as the US and other nations begin a gradual withdrawal, 215 coalition soldiers were killed in the first six months of the year, compared with 271 in the same period last year.
Reconciliation efforts have not gained steam, but Clinton said she was pleased to be meeting the foreign ministers of Afghanistan and Pakistan together in Tokyo — a three-way relationship seen as key to stabilizing Afghanistan.
From Kabul, Clinton and Karzai were heading separately to Japan for an international conference on Afghan civilian assistance. Donors were expected to pledge about US$4 billion a year in long-term civilian support.
Clinton stressed the importance of the pledges for civilian aid. Afghanistan’s cash-strapped government is heavily dependent on foreign largesse, and any significant drop-off in financial assistance after 2014 could set back the country’s development.
Asked about the systemic corruption that has plagued the Afghan government, Clinton said the US was working hard with Afghan authorities to eliminate fraud, mismanagement and abuse. She said the meeting in Tokyo would include accountability measures to ensure that money sent to Afghanistan benefits the Afghan people.
“This is an issue the government and the people of Afghanistan want action on, and we want to ensure they are successful,” Clinton said.
Nations that once gave more generously to Afghanistan are now seeking guarantees that their taxpayer money will not be lost to corruption and mismanagement.
International donors say that many promises to crack down on corruption have not been carried out. Some highly placed Afghan officials have been investigated for corruption, but seldom prosecuted, and some of the graft investigations have come close to the president himself.