On Afghan Forces, Obama Secures NATO's Promises--But Not Euros

Experts had said alliance members needed to commit specific amounts for Obama to call summit a success.

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Barack Obama greets government officials attending a meeting with partner nations in Chicago during the NATO 2012 Summit.

President Obama secured agreements from Washington's NATO allies about missile defense and keeping western forces in Afghanistan through 2014. But, in a blow to the president's hopes of calling the just-concluded Chicago summit a success, it became clear on Monday that NATO leaders had balked at spelling out how much each nation would spend on Afghanistan's security forces.

On many national security experts' recipes for a successful summit for Obama and his top diplomats was a plan spelling out just how much each NATO member nation would send to Kabul to support its police and military forces over the next 10 years.

[Photo Gallery: NATO Summit in Chicago]

As the summit wrapped up Monday afternoon in his hometown, Obama had no such nation-by-nation pledges in hand. The closest the president and his team got came in the form of words about the Afghanistan national security forces featured in a sweeping NATO statement the White House forwarded to reporters on Monday afternoon.

"NATO allies and [International Security Assistance Force] partners reaffirm their strong commitment to this process and will play their part in the financial sustainment of the ANSF," according to the alliance statement. "We also call on the international community to commit to this long-term sustainment."

Sources told U.S. News & World Report before the summit kicked off Saturday that Obama administration officials planned to press their European counterparts to formally pledge to devote at least $1 billion collectively each year for Afghanistan's military and police forces.

"The president made Afghanistan one of the signature features of the summit," says Stephen Flanagan, a former adviser to Madeleine Albright during her tenure as Secretary of State. "Now he needs the NATO allies to agree to a few things: committing to a presence there until 2014, and monetary support for Afghan security forces beyond that."

Obama appears to have gotten half that, with the alliance statement several times stating that NATO will "complete its mission by 31 December 2014."

During a late-afternoon press conference Monday, Obama said NATO members agreed to a plan earlier in the day under which Afghan forces will be given the lead in 2013 in all combat operations there. Western forces will fall back into a role in which they will support and advise those forces, and join in fights as needed.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who attended the summit, is trying to secure $4 billion for his security forces, sources say. Karzai has floated a plan under which Washington would devote $2 billion annually, with the international community--including NATO members--matching that amount. About $500 million would come from his nation's own coffers, with other undecided entities making up any remainder.

Afghan and U.S. officials say a robust police and military are the keys to a stable and functional Afghanistan that can keep out the Taliban and al Qaeda after most U.S. and NATO forces leave in 2014. To that end, U.S. and alliance commanders are building what will be a 350,000-plus security force that they will leave behind on Jan. 1, 2015.

Confirming months of speculation in national security circles, the NATO statement says the Afghan force will eventually shrink to nearly 229,000. But even after shedding the costs of some 120,000 police and military personnel, NATO pegs the cost of the Afghan forces at $4.1 billion annually.

Notably, the NATO statement devotes more words to explaining when Kabul will assume the task of paying for its own forces than clearly describing how much Europe and Washington will spend each year.

"As the Afghan economy and the revenues of the Afghan government grow, Afghanistan's yearly share will increase progressively from at least [$500 million] in 2015, with the aim that it can assume, no later than 2024, full financial responsibility for its own security forces," according to the statement. "In the light of this, during the [next] decade, we expect international donors will reduce their financial contributions commensurate with the assumption by the Afghan government of increasing financial responsibility."

[Gallery: New Wave of Violence Hits Afghanistan]

But experts question whether Afghanistan even 12 years down the road will be able to support a force that large--especially since Taliban, al Qaeda, and other groups have had success against the best-funded, equipped, and trained militaries in the world.

With a gross domestic product of just $17 billion, according to the World Bank, Kabul will need all the assistance it can get to pay for the envisioned military and national police force NATO is building.

And, NATO itself recently warned, the price tag could be double the amount being bandied about in official statements blowing out of the Windy City.

"A long-term solution also needed to be found for shouldering the cost of sustaining the ANSF, a cost currently estimated at some $8 billion ... or 50 [percent] of the estimated Afghan GDP," states a NATO white paper.

That means U.S. officials have more hard diplomatic work to do. Washington has enough trouble just getting alliance members to properly finance NATO. And as the Chicago summit's outcome shows, the European economic crisis continues to cast a pall on European leaders' ability and willingness to devote tens of millions of euros to Afghanistan.

John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at jbennett@usnews.com or follow him on Twitter.

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