LONDON - Afghanistan’s president and chief executive are at NATO headquarters in Brussels to formalize their country’s new relationship with the alliance, which will end its more than 10-year combat mission in Afghanistan at the end of this month.
The two Afghan leaders walked into NATO headquarters Monday at dusk, greeted by new Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Tuesday, they will meet with the foreign ministers of the 28 NATO member states, and senior officials of dozens of partner nations that have sent troops to Afghanistan over the years.
From January first, Afghan forces will have full responsibility for security and combat throughout the country, and NATO troops will work only as advisers and trainers. Plans for that were finalized on Sunday, when Afghan President Ashraf Ghani signed agreements with NATO and the United States.
Stoltenberg welcomed the move, saying, “We now have in place what we need to move forward with our new mission - Resolute Support - to train, advise and assist the Afghan national security forces.”
Earlier, Stoltenberg acknowledged violence will continue in Afghanistan, but said he is confident Afghan forces can handle the situation, with NATO support.
Ghani thanked NATO for its help, and paid tribute to the thousands of NATO troops killed and wounded in Afghanistan. Referring to the September 11 attacks in the United States in 2001, he said the relationship was “compelled by tragedy, cemented by sacrifices,” and is now moving to a new phase.
“Afghanistan is in the front line of struggle. But that struggle has meant, and the NATO commitment to that struggle has meant, that Europe and North America have been safe,” said Ghani.
A long dispute over the country’s presidential election threatened to derail the plan, but a U.S.-mediation effort convinced two bitter rivals to share power. In Brussels, the losing candidate -- now Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah - stood with Ghani and made an optimistic prediction.
“With the new spirit of cooperation that you see from the national unity government, the scope for changing the environment, not only for Afghanistan, but for the region as well as for the world peace, is much greater than we can imagine,” said Abdullah.
NATO foreign ministers are expected to formally approve the new Afghanistan mission at Tuesday’s meeting.
The ministers also will deal with a variety of other world crises on Tuesday. Stoltenberg said they will agree to continue the increased presence of NATO forces along the alliance’s eastern borders, in response to Russia’s new, more aggressive foreign and military policy. He said they also will announce NATO’s new “Spearhead” force will be created ahead of schedule, and will launch the financial aid for Ukraine that NATO leaders pledged at their summit in September.