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Italian Defence Minister Giampaolo Di Paola, third right, speaks with Supreme Allied Commander Europe, US Navy Admiral James Stavridis, at the summit in Belgium. Virginia Mayo/AP/Press Association Images
Afghanistan

NATO leaders meet to discuss handover and exit from Afghanistan

Funding of the fledgling Afghanistan security forces is expected to top the agenda at the two-day talks in Brussels.

FOREIGN AND DEFENCE ministers from the NATO group meet in Brussels today for a two-day summit to discuss how to fund security forces in Afghanistan once international troops leave.

NATO has already agreed to handover control of security operations to Afghan forces and leave them in full control of the country by the end of 2014 when US and British forces are expected to be among those pulling out of the country they invaded in 2001.

The two-day summit in Brussels is a precursor to a summit of NATO heads of government in Chicago next month where leaders will sign off on funding for Afghan security forces.

BBC News reports that the US is looking for other countries to pay as much as $1 billion annually in addition to the $3 billion it provides for Afghanistan presently.

“I expect NATO members and (partner countries) to commit to pay a fair share of the sustainment costs … after 2014,” NATO secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said as he arrived for the two-day meeting.

This week’s sessions are meant to stitch together US and NATO agreements on the pace of US and allied combat withdrawal next year.

Officials have already said they expect a shift to an Afghan military lead in combat operations by the middle of 2013, although the US stresses that it will still have a large number of forces in Afghanistan as backup.

Kabul attacks

The meeting comes in the aftermath of a deadly co-ordinated attack by the Taliban at the heart of US-backed government and international enclave in the country’s capital Kabul.

In the aftermath Afghan security forces were praised for their work in bringing an end to the audacious attack though President Hamid Karzai blamed poor international intelligence for no prior warning of the violence.

Karzai said that any accord reached by NATO must spell out the yearly US commitment to pay billions of dollars for the cash-strapped Afghan security forces, suggesting he is worried that the US commitment to his country is wavering as the drawdown nears.

The Afghan army currently numbers about 350,000 soldiers with the US, which provides most of the training and logistical support to the fledgling army, hoping to reduce this to about 230,000 by 2017, a reduction which has worried some.

The two-day summit also comes the day after Australia’s prime minister Julia Gillard announced that her country’s 1,500 soldiers in Afghanistan would be pulling out of the country a year earlier then others, by the end of 2013.

- additional reporting from AP

Read: Australia to withdraw troops from Afghanistan one year early

Read: Coordinated attacks hit Afghanistan

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