NATO leaders mapped a path out of the unpopular war in Afghanistan on Monday, backing plans to hand Afghans the combat lead from mid-2013 while vowing to stick by them as they seize their own destiny.
In a Chicago summit declaration, US President Barack Obama and his NATO military allies ratified an "irreversible" roadmap to "gradually and responsibly" withdraw 130,000 combat troops by the end of 2014.
But they also ordered military officers to begin planning a post-2014 mission to focus on training, advising and assisting Afghan troops to ensure the government can ward off a resilient Taliban insurgency.
"As Afghans stand up, they will not stand alone," Obama told the gathering of more than 50 world leaders, focused on ending a decade of war that has left over 3,000 coalition soldiers and tens of thousands of Afghans dead.
And a row over re-opening Pakistan supply routes into Afghanistan to NATO convoys also lingered, although Obama and NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said they were optimistic the issue would be resolved.
"We are actually making diligent progress on it," Obama told journalists at the final press conference ending the two-day unprecedented summit.
French officials said a calendar for withdrawing French troops by the end of 2012 -- a year early -- would be drawn up within the next 10 days, while Hollande signalled reluctance to stump more cash for the Afghan security forces.
"In principle we can look at it, but we haven't fixed a sum, and we are not bound by what Germany and other countries may do," he said.
NATO allies are being asked to contribute towards the $4.1 billion annual costs to help support the Afghan security forces.
The 28 NATO leaders and their 22 partners in the war, as far afield as Australia, Georgia and South Korea, issued a final statement saying Afghans will be in "lead for security nationwide" by mid-2013.
Though NATO troops will gradually shift focus to training and support, alliance officials stressed that foreign soldiers would still participate in combat operations when needed until late 2014.
The summit gave Obama a platform to show a war-weary American public that he has global support for his plan to end the war ahead of a tough re-election campaign against Republican Mitt Romney in November.
With the Taliban still resilient after a decade of war, NATO leaders sought to reassure Afghan President Hamid Karzai that the international community would not abandon his country after combat troops are gone.
The 50 nations involved in the war endorsed a US plan to provide $4.1 billion in annual security aid to Afghanistan and reduce the size of Afghan forces from a peak of 352,000 to 228,500.
The United States has offered to pay half the bill while the international community is expected to stump up the rest. But the summit declaration makes clear that the security aid will not last forever.
The declaration says the Afghan government's share of the bill will increase progressively from $500 million in 2015, "with the aim that it can assume, no later than 2024, full financial responsibility for its own security forces."
Canada agreed to continue funding Afghan forces until 2017, officials said, contributing some $108 million annual for three years after the troops withdraw.
"Canada will honor its commitment and complete its current training mission but our country will not have any military mission in Afghanistan after March 2014," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.
Obama also met briefly with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari, in a bid to try to resolve the issue of access to the supply routes into Afghanistan closed in November after a botched US air raid that left 24 Pakistani soldiers dead.
To ferry troops, food and equipment into Afghanistan, NATO has relied on cargo flights and a more costly northern route network through Russia, Central Asia and the Caucasus.
Zardari suggested to the summit that his government wanted to resolve the issue, saying officials had been told to "conclude negotiations."
Chicagoans Monday were also relieved as days of tight security was finally lifted, and protests which turned violent on Sunday were wound down.
Source: AFP Global Edition