NATO leaders on Thursday agreed to fund Afghan security forces until the end of 2017 but warned Afghan leaders that the time was short to sign security arrangements so they could install a non-combat force to train and support the Afghan forces.
Leaders from the 28 member states came to the decision at Celtic Manor in Newport, South Wales, during the first day of the summit.
The alliance also received a co-signed letter from Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, the two presidential candidates. In the letter, the candidates reaffirmed their commitment to resolving the issues to allow the US to withdraw combat troops by the end of the year.
However, Afghanistan cannot co-sign the agreement with the US until it has a permanent president in place. NATO plans to reform its mission next year, when the country's security will be placed in the hands of the 350,000-strong Afghan security and police forces.
"Without a signature there can be no mission. Although our military commanders have shown great flexibility in their planning, time is short. The sooner the legal framework is in place the better," NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters.
"I can confirm we received a message from the two presidential candidates indicating that they will do all they can to reach a political agreement. If that materialises, we will warmly welcome it."
In a joint declaration on Afghanistan, the NATO leaders said “ISAF will conclude at the end of 2014 as planned.
They honoured Afghan and international personnel who have lost their lives or been injured while serving in the largest military coalition in recent history.
“We also pay tribute to the hundreds of thousands of military and civilian personnel who have served with ISAF and the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) over the past thirteen years. Their sacrifices and efforts have made all of our nations safer and improved global security. For that, we are grateful.”
They said the Afghan forces had been in the lead for combat operations throughout the country. “Although many challenges remain, they have demonstrated that they are an effective force, gaining the respect and confidence of the Afghan people and able to prevent insurgents from achieving their objectives.”
The declaration said: “When ISAF operations end, the Afghan authorities will assume full responsibility for security. However, our commitment to Afghanistan will endure beyond ISAF along with our determination to ensure that we are never again threatened by terrorists from within Afghanistan.”
As decided at the Chicago Summit in 2012, NATO allies and partner nations stood ready to continue to train, advise and assist Afghanis after 2014, the declaration said, adding the mission’s establishment was contingent on the signing of the US-Afghanistan Bilateral Security Agreement and NATO-Afghanistan Status of Forces Agreement.
“The Resolute Support Mission should ideally, in consultation with the government of Afghanistan, be supported by a United Nations Security Council Resolution.”
At Chicago, NATO allies and ISAF partners decided to provide support to the Afghan forces, as appropriate, through the Transformation Decade, on the understanding that the Afghan Government will make an increasing financial contribution to this endeavour.
“Today, nations renewed their financial commitments to support the sustainment of the ANSF, including to the end of 2017. We also urge the wider international community to remain engaged in the financial sustainment of the ANSF.”
The declaration said NATO member states would maintain and strengthen the transparent, accountable and cost-effective funding mechanisms they have established since Chicago, including the Oversight and Coordination Body, which will ensure donors can confidently commit this support.
The NATO leaders also encouraged the Afghan government to continue and strengthen efforts to fight corruption. The allies also agreed to remain committed to the NATO-Afghanistan Enduring Partnership agreed at the Lisbon Summit in 2010.
They also vowed to continue to support an Afghan-led, Afghan-owned and inclusive peace process, as stated at the 2011 Bonn Conference and at the Chicago Summit in 2012. “We welcome efforts by all parties that further this process.”
They stressed good neighbourly relations, as well as regional support and cooperation as essential. “This has been strengthened notably by the Istanbul Process in the Heart of Asia region.”
They said a stable Afghanistan would be able to make a positive contribution to the wider region including through delivering progress in the fight against narcotics trafficking, illegal migration, terrorism and crime.
They resolved to support Afghanistan in making further progress towards becoming a stable, sovereign, democratic and united country, where rule of law and good governance prevail and in which human rights, and notably those of children, are fully protected.
The NATO leaders emphasized the particular importance of strengthening efforts to implement the rights of women and the United Nations Security Council Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, and to include women fully in political, peace and reconciliation processes.
“We further recognise the need for the protection of children from the damaging effects of armed conflict as required in relevant United Nations Resolutions. We also welcome continued work to strengthen the protection of civilians by all parties concerned. Thus, we are committed to continue working with Afghanistan to further strengthen these values and principles”
They said they had have extended significant offers of support and partnership to Afghanistan as it determined its own future. “We remain steadfast and resolute in our commitment to the Afghan people.”