Uncertainty of Afghan election clouds NATO summit
Updated: 2014-09-05 10:36
Government leaders and officials pose for a family photograph at Cardiff Castle in Wales, Sept 4, 2014. The two day NATO summit is taking place at the Celtic Manor resort, near Newport. [Photo/Agencies]
NEWPORT, Wales - This week's NATO summit was long planned as a celebration to mark the end of combat in Afghanistan and the coalition forces' shift to a largely advisory role. But the still-unsettled Afghan election has complicated the event, casting doubt on the transition and leaving the door open for all allied troops to be forced out at year's end.
As international leaders gather here, including US President Barack Obama, there is a nagging uncertainty about whether the Afghans will be able to put a new president in place and soon sign the security agreement that the US and allies need to keep troops in the country into next year.
On Thursday, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned that time is short for Afghan leaders to resolve their presidential election and sign the agreement. He said allied nations stand ready to commit assistance and troops, and will reach their $4.1 billion goal for funding Afghan security forces, but some final decisions can't be made until the political stalemate is over.
Without the agreement, Rasmussen said, "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."
The April 6 voting to elect a successor to Afghan President Hamid Karzai resulted in a runoff between the two candidates. Both have pulled their observers out of a ballot audit meant to determine the winner, and the final results of the audit are expected sometime next week.
The US plans to withdraw all but roughly 10,000 troops by the end of this year, to advise the Afghans and conduct some counterterror missions. That number would be cut in half by the end of 2015. The US would leave only about 1,000 in a security office after the end of 2016.
During the summit session, NATO leaders reaffirmed their commitment to the Afghanistan mission, and there was a short ceremony honoring troops that have died in the 13-year conflict.
Because the presidential election is not final, Afghan Defense Minister Gen. Bismullah Khan Mohammadi, represented his country at the summit. Outgoing President Hamid Karzai and the two candidates did not attend.
Instead, Rasmussen said, the two candidates, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah and ex-Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, sent a message to NATO, indicating "that they will do all they can to reach a political agreement."