Despite fatigue, NATO commits to fund Afghan forces to 2020
WARSAW – NATO allies have promised the United States they will help fund Afghan security forces to the tune of around $1 billion annually over the next three years despite public fatigue in Western countries about their involvement in the long-running conflict.
NATO, which is holding a two-day summit in the Polish capital Warsaw, has been present in Afghanistan since 2003 and has invested tens of billions of dollars in trying to stabilize the country.
A worsening security situation and a resurgent Taliban have forced the allies to reverse plans to sharply reduce their troops levels, though there is little Western appetite for a much prolonged involvement in Afghanistan.
“One of the great achievements of this meeting is that we now have in place the $1 billion in non-U.S. commitments,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference on Saturday, the second day of the Warsaw summit.
He hinted there were still some pledges due to come in, adding, “We are very close (to the target) and I’m certain that we will reach that level.”
The United States has been keen to secure the target of a billion dollars annually to support more than 350,000 Afghan security forces as it draws down its own military presence in the country.
The Pentagon has budgeted $3.45 billion in annual U.S. funds to pay for the Afghan forces, with the Afghan government providing an additional sum of around $420 million, for a total yearly budget of nearly $5 billion.
U.S. President Barack Obama announced this week that the United States was shelving its plans to cut the U.S. force in Afghanistan nearly in half by the end of 2016, opting instead to keep 8,400 troops there till the close of his presidency next January. That still implies a 1,400-troop reduction.
There are currently about 13,000 U.S. and international troops in Afghanistan, with Germany, Turkey and Italy as the biggest non-U.S contributors. Their role is to train the Afghan forces.
Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, said it was too early to say what troop levels the NATO allies would maintain in 2017 and said those decisions would be made in the autumn.
“We are committed (to Afghanistan) and we are ready to stay,” he added. –Reuters