x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Nato's dilemma — 'security in an age of austerity'

Analysis Barack Obama may reflect on the Nato summit in Chicago as the begining of the end of the US-led war in Afghanistan.

WASHINGTON // Barack Obama may reflect on the Nato summit in Chicago as the begining of the end of the US-led war in Afghanistan.

With more than 60 world leaders in his adopted hometown for two days of meetings, where anti-war and anti-globalisation protesters were kept well at bay, the summit will be a fillip to the US president's foreign-policy portfolio.

The leaders of the 28 Nato countries and their allies in Afghanistan were set yesterday to approve the final process for ending combat operations in a war that over its 11-year duration so far has claimed tens of thousands of lives.

Most security operations will be turned over to Afghanistan's security forces by the middle of 2013, according to the plan, while all international combat troops will return home by the end of 2014.

Summiteers, meanwhile, will be focused on "painting a vision", in Mr Obama's words, for their post-2014 involvement in Afghanistan where the US remains committed for another 10 years. A small Nato force will also be left behind, in part to help with training of Afghan troops

Nato allies will need to agree on a timetable for when each moves from active combat roles to support and training missions, the one area of minor disagreement that exists among countries unanimously weary of the war.

The leaders of the world's most powerful military alliance were focussed on how to provide what the Nato secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, described as "security in an age of austerity".

Announcements about contributions from Nato members towards the US$4.1bn (Dh15bn) annually the alliance estimates is needed to finance that force for 10 years were expected.

The Afghan government will pay about $500 million of that and the rest will come from donor countries, many of which are struggling with deficits, the eurozone crisis and the spectre of an apparently open-ended recession.

In the US, popular support for the occupation of Afghanistan is now as low as 27 per cent, according to an AP-Gfk poll taken this month. Sixty-six per cent of those polled oppose the war.

US-Pakistan relations have provided the one area of real friction in Chicago, not counting the vocal protesters outside. Mr Obama is reportedly refusing to meet Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan's president, who received a late invite to the summit.

The US administration is frustrated that a deal to re-open supply lines to Afghanistan from Pakistan had not been finalized before the summit. A Pakistani request to double what it charges Nato to move supplies across the border has also infuriated US officials.

The crossing into Afghanistan from Pakistan was closed last year in protest to a Nato air strike against a Pakistani army post that killed 24 soldiers and injured an additional 13. The US has expressed regret for the attack, but Pakistan's parliament in April passed a 14-point resolution demanding, among other things, an unconditional apology.

That aside, US thinking on Afghanistan does not diverge in any significant way from its Nato allies. Everyone is eager to see a time when the "Afghan war as we know it is over", as Mr Obama said after meeting Hamad Karzai, the Afghan president just ahead of the summit start on Sunday.

Nor is there any dissension from the US strategy to move from active combat role to support and training missions, even while retaining counter-insurgency strike capability.

The only differences on Afghanistan strategy is over a timetable for withdrawal, with Francoise Hollande, the newly elected French president, having partly campaigned on a promise to bring French troops home by the end of this year.

Even there however, most observers believe a deal can be struck by which French troops may transition out of active combat duty faster than other troops while still remaining in Afghanistan to offer training and support for Afghanistan's burgeoning security forces.