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NATO summit: Who will foot the bill for long-term Afghanistan security?

A war-weary US faces off with wary NATO allies in Chicago about money and support for Afghanistan after US combat troops withdraw in 2014. Don't expect any "Mission Accomplished" speeches. 

By Staff writer / May 19, 2012

Afghan National Army troops prepare to march in a parade. The issue for NATO members is who will pay Afghan forces after NATO leaves in 2014.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

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Washington

When NATO nations meet in Chicago May 20, one question will top the agenda: What happens in Afghanistan when US combat troops leave?

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To be sure, some troops from NATO countries, led by the United States, will likely stay behind after 2014 – both to train Afghans and act as a hedge against the Taliban's return. The summit will try to iron out some of those details.

But perhaps even more crucial – certainly for Afghanistan itself – is the question of who will foot the bill for Afghans to protect themselves. Afghanistan does not have remotely enough money to defend itself. Left alone, it could afford to pay about 30,000 soldiers and police officers. Currently, with international aid, it has more than 300,000 – a number that some experts say is too low.

As a result, much of the Chicago summit will be a passing of the hat for Afghanistan. With NATO countries war-weary and economically strapped, the commitments may not exactly fill that cup to overflowing.

It points to a NATO role in Afghanistan that will continue for years after the end of the international combat mission in 2014, but at a much-reduced and still uncertain level. And it suggests that for all the heady words spoken by NATO leaders, funding and troop pledges for an event still two years away are likely to remain vague.

The two-day meeting "will be something of a tin-cup exercise and should give us some idea of what the [NATO] coalition countries' post-2014 commitments to Afghanistan will look like," says Heather Conley, director of the Europe program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

In a clear reflection of this reduced commitment to Afghanistan, the gathering is expected to endorse the scaling back of the Afghan National Security Forces. Army and national police forces once envisioned to hover around 350,000 personnel for years after NATO's departure are now seen as gradually scaling back to something over 200,000 by 2018.

"The idea is to gradually reduce the size of the Afghan forces to make them more affordable," says James Dobbins, a former US Afghanistan envoy and now director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corp. in Arlington, Va.

US share: about $2 billion per year

Pre-summit discussions among NATO countries resulted in a consensus that foresees the US picking up "the largest part of the cost," Ambassador Dobbins says, with other countries making up the rest. That US share is expected to be about $2 billion a year, with other countries making up the difference of an annual bill of about $4 billion.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has indicated that he doesn't think the $4 billion will be enough. During the recent surge, the US was spending about $100 billion a year to maintain its force of 100,000 troops.

Dobbins says he expects the pledges at Chicago to remain general, in part because countries are reluctant to make specific funding commitments for what is still a few years off. Moreover, NATO nations are concerned that promised gains in Afghanistan have not panned out.

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