NATO Summit: Troops to be Out of Afghanistan by 2014

Video: President Obama summarizes decisions made at the NATO
summit. (Video by Katie Kormann and Ryann Rumbaugh)

NATO logoBy AnnCatherine Brady and Ryann Rumbaugh
The Red Line Project

Posted: Monday, May 21, 2012

After a weekend of protests, pomp and circumstance, the NATO summit concluded Monday with President Obama and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen confirming that NATO will stay with its agenda to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by 2014

The final day of the two-day summit at McCormick Place centered on Afghanistan, Smart Defense and promises to continue strengthening trans-Atlantic relations. The 28 member countries met in closed-door sessions, with Rasmussen acting as a messenger to the press.

 “We came to Chicago with three goals and we have met them,” Rasmussen said. “We are grateful to all our partners, and today’s meeting was a step toward enhancing our unique partnership network.”

In regards to Afghanistan, Rasmussen reiterated NATO’s plan for a gradual withdrawal by 2014. 

“By the end of 2014, the NATO-led combat mission will end,” he said.

On Sunday, Obama met face-to-face with Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai to finalize details for withdraw troops over the next two years. Their discussions were critical to the summit because the issue NATO leaders faced was how fast to withdraw troops from the country while also keeping it secure.

Karzai has disagreed with U.S. officials over drone strikes and night-time raids resulting in civilian casualties. He also has pressed European and American leaders for $4.1 billion a year for its security forces once the NATO and U.S. troops withdraw.

Obama said that there was now a clear roadmap for the future of Afghanistan and that Afghan forces will take the lead in security by the middle of 2013.

“NATO will continue to train, advise and assist, and support Afghan forces as they grow stronger," he said. "And while this summit has not been a pledging conference, it’s been encouraging to see a number of countries making significant financial commitments to sustain Afghanistan’s progress in the years ahead."

After having a military presence in the country for more than 10 years, Obama said there is a strain both on U.S. troops and Afghans. However, the timetable in place is a responsible one, he said. 

“The Afghan security forces themselves will not ever be prepared if they don't start taking that responsibility,” Obama said.

Obama also cited a recent strategic partnership agreement he signed with Karzai as a step to assuring that troops would withdraw from the country in the next 19 months.

Meanwhile, Rasmussen said that there were several new areas in which NATO members would cooperate. Allies will work together to guard against cyber threats and to improve energy security, he said.

Rasmussen also touched on previous statements he had made about Smart Defense, a plan to increase military and monetary defense sharing between NATO member states.

“We are ready to boost joint training and exercises so that we preserve our ability to undertake operations when needed,” he said. 

The Afghan security forces themselves will not ever be prepared if they don't start taking that responsibility.” -- Obama

Rasmussen also addressed President Francois Hollande’s announcement that France would withdrawal troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year.

“France will continue to contribute in different ways and that includes a continued contribution to our training mission. That is very much in accordance with the strategy we put into accordance in Lisbon in 2010,” Rasmussen said. 

While these discussions went on, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a separate meeting with the North Atlantic Council, featuring representatives of countries such as Georgia and Montenegro, which are not yet members of NATO.

Clinton spoke about NATO’s open door policy, which gives countries a chance to join the alliance, and explained how it has helped to produce stability and cooperation in Central and Eastern Europe.

Clinton thanked both Georgia and Montenegro for their contributions to the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, and spoke briefly about the America’s support for Georgian sovereignty as well as the inclusion of Montenegro in the next NATO summit.

As for other nations aspiring to join NATO, Clinton urged them to continue pushing regional initiatives like the Balkan Regional Approach to Air Defense and natural disaster preparedness.

At the end of the summit, President Barack Obama picked up the threads of Rasmussen’s addresses. In particular, he spoke about the current plan for Afghan security forces to transition into a leadership role, while ISAF steps back into a supporting one. 

Obama stressed the importance of continuing partnerships with member nations, and supporting nations, that have contributed to past NATO missions in Afghanistan as well as Libya. 

“To see the breadth of those countries represented in that room is to see how NATO has truly become a hub of global security,” said Obama. 

With these partnerships, Obama said that NATO is more prepared and capable to face the future.

Although he was advised not to, Obama closed the meeting with a question about his views on the image Chicago projected during the summit.

The President said that Chicago preformed "magnificently" and that he could not have been prouder. He also touched on the protests around the city, stressing that the right to free speech and demonstration are all things NATO defends.

He closed his remarks by thanking Chicagoans for their patience.

“The only other thing I’ll say about this is thank you to everybody who endured the traffic situation," he said. "That's part of the price of being a world city.”

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