Wednesday, 18 April 2012

NATO Foreign Ministers to Discuss Future of Afghanistan

NATO Foreign Ministers will meet for two days, starting today to discuss their withdrawal from Afghanistan.  The talks are being held ahead of an Afghanistan Summit to be hosted by President Obama in Chicago on May 20th and 21st.  The talks are also expected to cover the European Missile protection shield.  The missile shield is opposed by Russia.

There has been an upsurge of violence in Afghanistan after the Quran burnings and the massacre of 17 civilians last month.  Night raids by US Special Forces have also been a subject of contention, although the US has reached a deal with the Karzai government.  These talks will primarily focus on the funding of Afghan Security Forces after the NATO withdrawal.

While Afghan forces are expected to level at 228,500 by 2017, they are expected to grow to 352,000 soldiers and police officers this year but the future size is under discussion.  A force of this size has to be funded, trained, equipped and paid.  The price tag for the force is approximately $4.1 Billion, of which the United States is expected to pay $2.3 Billion.  The remainder is to be split among NATO allies and the Afghan government.

The US and Afghanistan are presently in the process of discussing a Strategic Partnership Agreement.  Afghan President Hamid Karzai has demanded that the funding be entrenched in the agreement.  Karzai said although there has been verbal agreement on $4 Billion, he wants at least $2 Billion entrenched in the agreement.  The US wanted the agreement signed prior to the Chicago summit.

While there is a timetable of NATO withdrawal by the end of 2014, the plan has always stipulated that it depended on the conditions on the ground.  Despite the recent upsurge in violence, including the attacks in Kabul and across Afghanistan last weekend, NATO insists that the amount of  violence is down from last year.

Commenting on the attacks, aaNATO spokeswoman, Oana Lungescu, said on Monday, "Clearly we still face security challenges.  "This was not the first such attack and I do not expect it to be the last.
But such attacks don't change the transition strategy, they don't change the goal and they don't change the timeline that we all agreed to at the Lisbon summit in November 2010."

Regardless,  training Afghan Security Forces is still a formidable challenge and comes amid security concerns, particularly the infiltration of Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters into these forces.  NATO seems bound and determined to end its commitment in Afghanistan.  With a war weary public who can blame them.  The picture may not be as rosy as they claim though.

The Missile Protection shield is another contentious issue, which the Russians are not too happy about.   The missiles are expected to be deployed across Europe.  Hillary Clinton is expected to meet with Russia's Foreign Minster, Sergei Lavrov, on Thursday.  The meeting is hoped to ease Russia's  concerns on the missile protection shield.

Vladimir Putin was invited to the summit in Chicago next month, but he is not expected to attend.

A lot of work is ahead of NATO ministers to balance the needs of Afghanistan, establish base line funding and convince the Russians to participate in the missile shield.  For the sake of Afghanistan, let's hope their efforts bear fruit.

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