NATO leaders agreed on Saturday to maintain a stable military presence in Afghanistan and to help fund Afghan security forces to the tune of around $1 billion annually over the next three years.
The decision came despite public fatigue in Western countries about their involvement in the long-running conflict.
The allies, attending a two-day summit in the Polish capital Warsaw, decided they should do more to support countries in North Africa and Middle East that are prey to violent Islamic extremism.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also pressed Afghan leaders to take action against corruption, carry out electoral reforms and protect human rights.
NATO has been present in Afghanistan since 2003 and has invested tens of billions of dollars in trying to stabilize the country.
A worsening security situation and a resurgent Taliban have forced the allies to reverse plans to sharply reduce their troops levels, though there is little Western appetite for a much prolonged involvement in Afghanistan.
“One of the great achievements of this meeting is that we now have in place the $1 billion in non-U.S. commitments,” Stoltenberg told a news conference on the second day of the Warsaw summit.
“We are very close (to the target) and I’m certain that we will reach that level,” he added.
A senior U.S. official said, on condition of anonymity, that the allies had made pledges that put them at over 90 percent of the funding levels agreed to at a 2012 NATO summit in Chicago.
The United States has been keen to secure the target of one billion dollars annually from other countries to support more than 350,000 Afghan security forces as it draws down its own military presence in the country.
The Pentagon has budgeted $3.45 billion in annual U.S. funds to pay for the Afghan forces, with the Kabul government providing an additional sum of around $420 million, for a total yearly budget of nearly $5 billion.
President Barack Obama announced this week that the United States was dropping its plans to cut the U.S. force in Afghanistan nearly in half by the end of 2016, opting instead to keep 8,400 troops there till the close of his presidency next January. That still implies a 1,400-troop reduction.
There are currently about 13,000 U.S. and international troops serving in the NATO mission, called Resolute Support, in Afghanistan, with Germany, Turkey and Italy as the biggest non-U.S contributors. Their role is to train the Afghan forces.
The United States has additional troops in Afghanistan focusing on counterterrorism operations.
Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister, said it was too early to say what troop levels the NATO allies would maintain in 2017 and said those decisions would be made in the autumn.
A senior U.S. official said the non-U.S. allies would collectively contribute about the same number of troops to the mission as they do now, although individual countries’ numbers may vary. The size of the NATO mission is on track to be more than 12,000 troops after the adjustments, U.S. officials said.
Afghanistan faces a number of crises, including a faltering economy, a government weakened by infighting between rivals and endemic corruption. Both President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, Ghani’s runner-up in the 2014 presidential election, attended the NATO summit.
A U.S. official said the U.S. and its allies were encouraged by the fact that some cabinet-level appointments had recently moved through the Afghan parliament, that the government was doing better in collecting tax revenues and that Ghani had diligently pursued anti-corruption measures.
“NATO and NATO partners will continue to support Afghanistan, but we expect they (Afghan leaders) will step up their efforts to fight corruption and to implement reforms,” Stoltenberg said.
NATO IN MIDDLE EAST
Stoltenberg said Saturday NATO will start a training and capacity-building mission for Iraqi armed forces in Iraq, provide assistance for Jordan, and establish a new intelligence center in Tunisia to help that country’s special operations forces.
Stoltenberg said NATO leaders also agreed in principle for alliance surveillance aircraft to provide direct support to the U.S.-led coalition fighting the ISIS group in Syria and Iraq. NATO diplomats say they expect the flights to begin this fall.
He said NATO will also launch a new maritime operation in the Mediterranean, Operation Sea Guardian, and cooperate closely with the European Union’s efforts to halt human smuggling operations that have fueled Europe’s greatest migrant crisis since World War II.