CHICAGO - President Barack Obama says the world has a vital interest in the long-term success of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. NATO has reaffirmed plans to hand over combat operations to Afghanistan's military next year.
President Obama and NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen presided over discussions involving members of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
The session included nations whose logistical and financial support will be crucial to sustaining Afghanistan's military after the scheduled December 31, 2014 target to withdraw all foreign combat forces, currently numbering about 130,000 troops.
Obama was seated next to the ISAF commander, U.S. Marine Corps General John Allen. Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai sat next to NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the large circular table.
Saying the presence of so many countries illustrated the international nature of the mission, Obama declared the transition to Afghan-led security well underway, and spoke about the next milestone.
"We will set a goal for Afghan forces to take the lead for combat operations across the country in 2013, next year, so that ISAF can move to a supporting role," said the U.S. president. "This will be another step [in] Afghan Forces taking full lead for their security as agreed to by 2014 when the ISAF combat operation will end."
Demonstrators flow out of Grant Park in Chicago during this weekend's NATO summit Sunday, May 20, 2012 in Chicago.
U.S. President Barack Obama during a meeting with Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai at the NATO Summit at McCormick Place in Chicago, May 20, 2012.
Leaders watch a ceremony honoring NATO military personnel for their service the NATO Summit meeting in Chicago, May 20, 2012.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen arrives at the NATO Summit in Chicago, May 21, 2012.
A demonstrator sits in a tree Grant Park before a march in Chicago, May 20, 2012.
A Chicago Police officer confronts a protester during a march and rally at this weekend's NATO summit.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel talks to President Obama at the Summit. At left is NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
Leaders pose for a family photo outside Soldier Field, May 20, 2012.
President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron help Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen find his toe marker.
Valerie Trierweiler, partner of Francois Hollande, and first lady Michelle Obama watch a student explain the making of a meal during a tour of the Gary Corner Youth Center in Chicago.
A protester covered in silver paint purchases a rail ticket following an anti-NATO protest march in Chicago, May 20, 2012.
Obama made a point of noting the presence of officials from Russia and Central Asian countries that he said provide critical transit for ISAF supplies in and out of Afghanistan.
A major NATO objective on Monday was agreeing on reliable commitments to help support Afghanistan going forward to make sure that, as Obama put it, "hard-won progress is preserved."
"Today we can agree on NATO's long-term relationship with Afghanistan beyond 2014, including our support of Afghan security forces," he said.
NATO Secretary General Rasmussen said ISAF played
a vital role in denying terrorists a safe haven in Afghanistan, and now the world must help ensure a secure and democratic Afghanistan in a stable region.
"By the end of 2014 the ISAF operation will terminate and the NATO-led combat mission will end. But our commitment is for the long term," said Rasmussen. "From 2015 we expect to maintain a NATO-led presence to train, advise and assist the Afghan security forces and NATO, and ISAF nations will also pay their share to help sustain the army and police Afghanistan needs for the coming years.
"Sustaining Afghan government forces beyond 2014 is estimated to cost about $4 billion. After shouldering the bulk of the financial burden for so many years, the United States is seeking $1.3 billion in commitments.
Without mentioning specific numbers, White House official Ben Rhodes told reporters NATO is "far along on the path" to achieving the $1.3 billion objective.
The final summit declaration calls for the international community to commit to the long-term sustainment of Afghanistan's security forces, saying funding will be guided by principles including transparency, accountability, cost effectiveness and measures against corruption.