| ||The Chicago promise|
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'Afghanistan will not stand alone'
The NATO summit wrapped up Monday with an agreement that was all but assured before the first world leader stepped off a plane at O'Hare. U.S. and NATO troops will move to a supporting role in Afghanistan next year, letting Afghan security forces take the lead across the country. By the end of 2014, most of the 130,000 NATO and U.S. forces will be out.
That apparent unity is welcome, though anything less than complete agreement on so critical a mission as Afghanistan would have meant the 63-year-old alliance had crumbled into irrelevance. That its mantra for military action — "in together, out together" — had been revised to "in together, out whenever any country (think: France) gets antsy."
About France: Its new president, Francois Hollande, did confirm that he'd yank 3,300 French troops early, as he promised in his election campaign. But he also talked of providing "support in another form."
We hope Hollande means plenty of money for Afghan security forces. NATO now has a road map for pulling its troops out of Afghanistan, but it has no agreement yet for who will pick up the $4.1 billion annual cost for a scaled-back Afghan security force of 230,000.
Europe needs to pay its fair share to help the Afghan government defend itself against the Taliban insurgency, which is still dangerous and resilient. That's not just a one-year commitment. The horizon for how long Afghanistan will need help to pay its security costs likely stretches for at least a decade.
Afghanistan raises just $1.7 billion a year in revenues — less than half of the anticipated cost for security forces. The U.S. will ante up about half of the $4.1 billion for Afghan forces after 2014. Afghanistan pledges to pay $500 million. Germany, Britain, Australia and others have chipped in more than $400 million. The rest of the world needs to step up.
Opening the Chicago summit, President Barack Obama said he looked forward to the time when "the war as we understand it is over."
Our military operations in Afghanistan will wind down, but the world's defense against organized terrorism will go on in many theaters. The challenge is to guard against the creation of more terrorist safe havens, as Afghanistan became under the Taliban. That goes to the heart of NATO's fundamental mission, the collective defense of its members.
Will the next meticulously planned plot incubate in the badlands onPakistan'sborder? Will it come fromAl-Qaida's active Yemen branch? From Somalia or places not yet on NATO's radar?
On Monday, NATO issued a declaration on Afghanistan. The alliance renewed "our firm commitment to a sovereign, secure and democratic Afghanistan. ... (NATO's) mission will be concluded by the end of 2014. But thereafter Afghanistan will not stand alone: We reaffirm that our close partnership will continue beyond the end of the transition period."
Sovereign. Secure. Democratic.
Those can't be just words on paper.
NATO's troop withdrawal is "irreversible," according to Monday's declaration. The timetable is known. But with that declaration NATO has also vowed not to abandon Afghanistan to terrorists and an insurgency that would brutally dismantle the country's democracy and threaten the world.
Thousands of allied soldiers, Afghan soldiers and Afghan civilians have died in this fight.
Afghanistan will not stand alone. NATO's leaders need to show they mean those stirring words.
Now, next year, and after the troops depart in 2014.