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NATO Summit Chicago: World Leaders Discuss End Of Afghanistan War

By BEN FELLER and ANNE GEARAN 05/21/12 08:27 PM ET AP

CHICAGO — President Barack Obama and leaders around the globe locked in place an Afghanistan exit path Monday that will still keep their troops fighting and dying there for two more years, acknowledging there never will be point at which they can say, "This is all done. This is perfect."

Obama, presiding over a 50-nation war coalition summit in his hometown, summed up the mood by saying the Afghanistan that will be left behind will be stable enough for them to depart – essentially good enough after a decade of war_ but still loaded with troubles.

The war that began in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks will finish at the end of 2014.

"I don't think there's ever going to be an optimal point where we say, `This is all done. This is perfect. This is just the way we wanted it,'" Obama said as the NATO summit closed. "This is a process, and it's sometimes a messy process."

Obama never spoke of victory.

Afghan forces for the first time will take over the lead of the combat mission by the middle of 2013, a milestone moment in a long, costly transition of control. Even in a backup role, U.S. forces and all the rest will face surprise attacks and bombings until the war's end.

Wary of creating a vacuum in a volatile region, the nations also promised a lasting partnership with Afghanistan, meaning many years of contributing tax dollars, personnel and political capital after the end of their soldiers' combat.

The United States has already cut its own deal with Afghanistan along those lines, including a provision that allows U.S. military trainers and special forces to remain in Afghanistan after the war closes.

In an escalating election-year environment, Obama was as at the center of the action in Chicago, beaming and boasting about the city's performance in hosting the event. Noisy protesters loaded the city's streets at times, which Obama called just the kind of free expression NATO defends.

Tensions with Pakistan undermined some of the choreographed unity. Pakistan has not yet agreed to end the closure of key transit routes into Afghanistan – retaliation for American airstrikes that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers months ago – and the issue hung over the summit.

Obama had no official talks with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, although the two chatted briefly. Obama spoke of progress on the standoff but he added: "I don't want to paper over real challenges there. There's no doubt that there have been tensions."

On Afghanistan, led by Obama, the partners are in essence staying the course. They stuck with a timeline long established and underscored that there will be no second-guessing the decision about when to leave.

Since 2010, they have been planning to finish the war at the end of 2014, even as moves by nations such as France to pull combat troops out early have tested the strength of the coalition. The shift to have Afghan forces take the lead of the combat mission next year has also been expected. Leaders presented it as a significant turning point in the war.

It will be "the moment when throughout Afghanistan people can look out and see their own troops and police stepping up to the challenge," said the NATO chief, Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

What the world is poised to leave behind is an Afghanistan still riddled with poverty, corruption and political instability.

Yet, out of money and patience, the U.S.-led partnership said it is confident Afghanistan will be stable and prepared enough to at least be able to protect itself – and, in turn, prevent its territory from becoming a launching pad for international terrorism.

Questioned about what will happen if Afghanistan eventually falls apart, Obama signaled there is no turning back. "I think that the timetable that we've established is a sound one, it is a responsible one. Are there risks involved in it? Absolutely."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the leaders were "making a decisive and enduring commitment to the long-term future of Afghanistan. The message to the Afghan people is that we will not desert them. And the message to the insurgency is equally clear: You cannot win on the battlefield. You should stop fighting and start talking."

The political stakes are high for the U.S. president, who will go before voters in November with tens of thousands more troops in Afghanistan than when we took office. His emphasis will remain that he is methodically winding down the war after closing out the one in Iraq; U.S. voters desperate for better economic times have long stopped approving of the war mission.

NATO said it will keep providing "long-term political and practical support" to Afghanistan after 2014 but added: "This will not be a combat mission."

Despite the size of the coalition, the war remains a United States-dominated effort.

The U.S. has 90,000 of the 130,000 foreign forces in the war. Obama has pledged to shrink that to 68,000 by the end of September but has offered no details on the withdrawal pace after that, other than to say it will be gradual.

The fighting alliance called negotiation the key to ending the insurgency in Afghanistan, but avoided mentioning the Taliban by name. The insurgents walked away from U.S.-led talks in March, and urged the NATO nations to follow the lead of France in pledging to remove combat forces ahead of schedule.

The alliance agreed on a fundraising goal to underwrite the Afghan armed forces after the international fighting forces depart.

The force of about 230,000 would cost about $4.1 billion annually – the bulk of it paid by the United States and countries that have not been part of the fighting force.

U.S. and British officials said during the summit that pledges total about $1 billion a year so far and that fundraising is on track to make up the rest. French President Francois Hollande said the U.S. had requested a little less than $200 million but was non-committal, saying France was "not bound by what Germany or other countries might do."


Associated Press writer Julie Pace and Jamey Keaten contributed to this report.

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  • NATO family photo

    Leaders pose for the family photo at Soldier Field during the NATO Summit on May 20, 2012 in Chicago. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Barack Obama, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Sali Berisha, David Cameron

    President Barack Obama, center, and Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, point out Lake Michigan for British Prime Minister David Cameron, far right, during the group photo of NATO leaders at Soldier Field at the NATO Summit in Chicago, Sunday, May 20, 2012. Also on the riser is Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha, far left. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • Hillary Rodham Clinton, David Cameron, William Hague

    Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to British Prime Minister David Cameron, left, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague during the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago, Monday, May 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Philippe Wojazer, Pool)

  • Barack Obama, David Cameron

    President Barack Obama talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron before a meeting on Afghanistan during the NATO Summit, Monday, May 21, 2012, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

  • Angela Merkel, Julia Gillard, Johanna Siguroardottir

    From left, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and Iceland's Prime Minister Johanna Siguroardottir talk during the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) meeting on Afghanistan at the NATO Summit in Chicago, Monday, May 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

  • World Leaders Take Part In NATO Summit In Chicago

    CHICAGO, IL - MAY 21: President of Azerbaijan Ilham Heydar combs his hair as he arrives for a meeting on Afghanistan during the NATO Summit at McCormick Place on May 21, 2012, in Chicago, Illinois. As sixty heads of state converge for the two day summit that will address the situation in Afghanistan among other global defense issues, thousands of demonstrators have taken the streets to protest. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Greek Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis, center, arrive to pose for a photo at the 2012 NATO Summit at McCormick Place, May 20, 2012, in Chicago. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Hamid Karzai

    Afghan President Hamid Karzai, second right, chats with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, left, as Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rasoul, 2nd left, and Afghan Defense Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak, right, look on during the 2012 NATO Summit May 21, 2012, at the McCormick Place convention center in Chicago. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages)

  • Francois Hollande, Anders Fogh Rasmussen

    French President Francois Hollande, right, meets with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen during a bilateral meeting at the Radisson Blu Hotel before attending the opening session of the NATO Summit in Chicago, Sunday, May 20, 2012. (AP Photo/Yoan Valat, Pool)

  • Hamid Karzai

    Afghan President Hamid Karzai attends a working session on the second day of the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago, Monday, May 21, 2012. (AP Photo/Philippe Wojazer, Pool)


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