WARSAW NATO allies agreed on Saturday to help fund Afghan security forces to the tune of around $1 billion annually over the next three years, 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, also pressed Afghan leaders to do more to combat corruption, carry out electoral reforms and protect human rights, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said.
NATO has had forces in Afghanistan since 2003 and has invested tens of billions of dollars in trying to stabilise 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.
For the United States, the stakes are high: a collapse of Afghanistan's government and takeover by the Taliban could again make the country a haven for militant groups hostile to the West including al Qaeda and Islamic State, also known as ISIL, which has recently made some inroads in Afghanistan.
"We know there are al Qaeda and ISIL components in Afghanistan and if we fail there, we know that it'll be a safe haven for those," U.S. Army General Curtis Scaparrotti, the top NATO commander, told reporters on the sidelines of the summit.
President Barack Obama announced this week that the United States was shelving 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 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 United States 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.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott and Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Gareth Jones)
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