* This morning NATO secretary general AndersFogh Rasmussen addressed the media and laid out the NATO summit agenda, which should hopefully be familiar by now: Afghanistan, Smart Defense, and making sure everyone gets along. Rasmussen gave the hard sell on Smart Defense:
Today we will focus on security in an age of austerity. We will ensure that the alliance has the capabilities to deal with the security challenges of the future even as we tackle the economic challenges of the present. We will adopt a concrete package of multinational projects which can provide greater security for all our citizens at lower cost.
Rasmussen also took questions about France and Francois Hollande’s position on an early French withdrawal from Afghanistan:
There will be no rush for the exits; we will stay committed…. Our goal and strategy, our timetable, remain unchanged. As regards President Hollande’s statement, I’m not surprised that newly elected President Hollande wants to keep his pledges. I think that’s rule number one for a politician, to keep your promises.
I’ve also taken note of the fact that President Hollande has stated that France will be prepared to support Afghanistan in a different way, and that’s very much in accordance of the strategy we outlined already when we met in Lisbon two years ago. We are in the process of gradually handing over lead responsibility to the Afghans and as we do that, the role of our troops, can gradually change, from combat to support, and the number of our troops can also gradually be resuced, but all that will take place in a coordinated manner. So I feel confident that we will maintain solidarity in our coalition.
Max Rosenthal suggested: “If there’s no ‘rush to exits’ in Afghanistan it’s only because everyone’s slowly filing out after the 3rd quarter.” The Taliban also said that NATO should leave, citing a CBS poll.
* Barack Obama appeared briefly with Afghan president Hamid Karzai to discuss the near future of the war:
It is a great pleasure to welcome President Karzai to my hometown of Chicago after he extended hospitality to me during my visit to to Kabul recently. During that trip to Afghanistan, we were able to finalize the Strategic Partnership Agreement that reflects a future in which two sovereign nations – the United States and Afghanistan – are operating as partners, to the benefit of our countries’ citizens, but also for the benefit of peace and security and stability in the region and around the world.
[T]he NATO Summit is going to be largely devoted to ratifying and reflecting the broad consensus that so many of our partners and ISAF members have agreed to – one in which we are working with the Afghans over the next several years to achieve a complete transition to Afghan lead for Afghan security; one in which we continue to provide support for the Afghan National Security Forces that have made excellent progress over the last several years; and also painting a vision post-2014 in which we have ended our combat role, the Afghan war as we understand it is over….
The loss of life continues in Afghanistan; there will be hard days ahead. But we’re confident that we are on the right track, and what this NATO Summit reflects is that the world is behind the strategy that we’ve laid out.
Karzai agreed in kind:
We have had a good meeting today in which Afghanistan reaffirmed its commitment to the transition process and to the completion of it in 2013, and the completion of withdrawal of our partners in 2014, so that Afghanistan is no longer a burden on the shoulder of our friends in the international community, on the shoulders of the United States and our other allies.
While emphasizing how long the process will be for Afghanistan and the rest of the world:
[T]he world community, in particular the United States and our allies in NATO and ISAF, will be with us to make sure that we take steady and strong steps and are back while you are making those steps towards 2024, when Afghanistan will be largely defending itself and providing for itself.