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NATO Approves Beginning of New Mission in Afghanistan

With U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (C) watching, Afghanistan President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani (R) talks with Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah at a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, Dec. 2, 2014.

NATO foreign ministers on Tuesday formally approved the launch of a new advisory mission for Afghanistan after alliance combat operations end December 31.

The ministers took the action at a meeting with Afghanistan's top two leaders in Brussels. After more than 10 years, it was the last NATO foreign ministers meeting to be held with alliance troops in combat in Afghanistan. The ministers affirmed plans for the remaining NATO troops to move into a training and advising role starting January 1.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the 12,000 advisory troops and a plan to help finance Afghanistan’s own security forces are part of a long-term commitment. He called this a “significant moment,” but also called on the new Afghan government to follow through on its reform plan.

“We welcome the determination of the national unity government to implement urgently needed reforms, to promote good governance, accountability and human rights, including the rights for women,” he said.

The Afghan national unity government brings together President Asraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, bitter political rivals who have pledged to work together. After Tuesday's meeting, Ghani called the session a “landmark” moment in Afghan history and pledged that the new government would take steps to enable Afghanistan to defend itself in the long term.

"I hope that we will be able to bring the leadership management changes within our security forces that would make it even more compelling for our soldiers and our policemen and women to sacrifice,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hailed the “remarkable moment” and said initial contacts between the new Afghan government and Pakistan opened what he called a “new set of possibilities” for improvements in regional security.

He also acknowledged that there will be more U.S. troops in Afghanistan after the end of the year than originally planned because of the delay in getting Afghan approval of key treaties that outline the status of the NATO forces.

“These are temporary steps that have been taken, and NATO member countries are close to meeting the troop levels, and I anticipate that ultimately they will,” he said.

Kerry and the Afghan leaders will be in London Thursday to meet with dozens of donor countries to line up additional financial support for the new Afghan government.

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