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May 22, 2012

NATO to shift war command to Afghanistan


War command will begin transitioning to Afghan forces in mid-2013. (UPI/Shawn Thew/Pool)

CHICAGO (UPI) -- NATO will support Afghanistan in an advisory capacity and help train its military after combat forces leave in 2014, leaders at a Chicago summit said Monday.

U.S. President Obama and other NATO leaders said plans are to give Afghan forces combat command by mid-2013, with NATO combat forces leaving by the end of 2014.

"Today we have taken further important steps on the road to a stable and secure Afghanistan and to our goal of preventing Afghanistan from ever again becoming a safe haven for terrorists that threaten Afghanistan, the region, and the world," said a declaration issued by the North Atlantic Council, the principal political decision-making body within NATO.

NATO said it will establish, at the request of Afghanistan, a post-2014 mission to train, advise and assist the Afghanistan military and special forces.

The leaders warned that NATO countries want to see "tangible progress" by the Afghan government regarding its commitments to a democratic society "based on the rule of law and good governance.

"The forthcoming elections must be conducted with full respect for Afghan sovereignty and in accordance with the Afghan Constitution," the declaration said. "Their transparency, inclusivity and credibility will also be of paramount importance. Continued progress towards these goals will encourage NATO nations to further provide their support up to and beyond 2014."

Afghanistan was strongly urged to allow the full participation of Afghan women in the reconstruction, political, peace and reconciliation processes.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai recently announced a third group of provinces is transitioning to Afghan control, which means 75 percent of Afghanistan's population lives in areas led by Afghan forces.

"Today is also an opportunity to ensure our hard-won progress is preserved," Obama said in remarks at the meeting of the International Security Assistance Force. "The Strategic Partnership Agreement that President Karzai and I signed in Kabul ensures that as Afghans stand up they will not stand alone."

The declaration Monday came at the end of the two-day Chicago summit, which had begun with non-Afghanistan issues.

The intergovernmental military alliance agreed Sunday to "operationalize" a missile defense system already in place in four European countries, officials said.

The system, to protect Europe against ballistic missiles that might be launched from Iran or other countries, is expected to have limited capability by 2015 and be fully operational by 2018, The Washington Post said.

NATO agreed to buy and deploy five unarmed RQ-4 Global Hawk drones that will give the alliance capabilities until now available only from the U.S. military, officials cited by the Post said.

Each aircraft is estimated to cost about $218 million, including sensors and all research and development, The New York Times reported last August.

The alliance moved forward on plans to share NATO defense costs and operations more fairly, the officials said.

The cost and contributions to NATO defense operations costs are shouldered largely by the United States, the Post said.

No leader raised the subject of the ongoing violence in Syria, U.S. NATO ambassador Ivo H. Daalder told the Post.

NATO members "are very much concerned about the situation of Syria," but the alliance has "no intention whatsoever to intervene," NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told the newspaper.

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