US President Barack Obama and his partners want their war-weary voters to know that the end is in sight in Afghanistan. However finishing the war in 2014 is easier said than done.
France wants an early exit and as NATO’s Chicago summit closed, questions remain over how to prevent a Taliban resurgence once allied troops have gone.
“This will not mark the end of Afghanistan’s challenges, obviously, or our partnership with that important country,” Obama told reporters. “But we are making substantial progress against our core objective of defeating al Qaeda and denying it safe haven, while helping the Afghans to stand on their own. We leave Chicago with a clear road map. Our coalition is committed to this plan to bring our war in Afghanistan to a responsible end.”
NATO will shift to a training and advisory role in Afghanistan after handing over control to the country’s own security forces by the middle of next year.
France’s new president is sticking to his campaign pledge of withdrawing its combat troops by the end of this year but said some training personnel would stay.
François Hollande rejects any speculation that Paris will have to pay compensation for bringing its soldiers home two years ahead of NATO’s timetable.
A bigger challenge facing NATO is Islamabad’s refusal to reopen supply routes to Afghanistan. They are seen as vital to an orderly withdrawal.
Our correspondondent in Chicago, Paul Hackett, said:
“Unsurprisingly, leaders have hailed this summit here in Chicago as a success for the future of NATO. But despite agreeing a timetable to leave Afghanistan, problems with Pakistan persist and France’s decision to pull troops out early cannot be easily papered over.”