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NATO seeks unity on Afghan war

21 May, 2012

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CHICAGO: A key NATO summit, gathering more than 50 world leaders, opened in Chicago on Sunday with a minute's silence for all those who have fallen in combat around the world.

Led by NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen and US President Barack Obama, the summit leaders stood and bowed their heads as a uniformed US bugler played "Taps".

Rasmussen opened the two-day talks saying "our deepest sympathies go to the families and loved ones of all those who made sacrifices".

Addressing the themes of the summit, he vowed to complete the transition to Afghan security by 2014.

He also stressed the need to embrace "a renewed culture of cooperation" vowing that "together we will make our partnerships deeper, broader and stronger".

Obama trumpeted that "for over 65 years our alliance has been the bedrock of our common security, our freedom and our prosperity".

"And though the times may have changed, the fundamental reason for our alliance has not," he said, adding that "in good times and in bad our alliance has endured, in fact it has thrived".

Outside, far from the waterfront convention centre where the summit was being held, thousands of protesters gathered demanding an end to costly and destructive wars.

NATO leaders charting a path out of Afghanistan sought to dispel fears of a rush for the exits in the unpopular war even as France's new president vowed to stick by his pledge to withdraw French troops by year's end.

Obama, who once called the Afghan conflict a "war of necessity" but is now looking for an orderly way out, hosted the NATO summit in his home town, Chicago, a day after major industrialised nations tackled a European debt crisis that threatens the global economy.

The shadow cast by fiscal pressures in Europe and elsewhere followed leaders from Obama's presidential retreat in Maryland to the talks on Afghanistan, an unwelcome weight on countries mindful of growing public opposition to a costly war that has failed to defeat the Taliban in nearly 11 years of fighting.

Obama, hoping an Afghan exit strategy will help shore up his chances for re-election in November, urged NATO leaders to ratify a "broad consensus" for gradually turning over security to Afghan forces and pulling out most of the 130,000 NATO troops by the end of 2014.

A Western official, meanwhile, said countries with troops in Afghanistan have pledged roughly $1 billion to help bankroll Afghan security forces once most NATO troops withdraw by the end of 2014, on top of funds promised by the US.

The financial commitments in the "billion dollar range" represent "major progress" towards a goal of $1.3 billion from nations in the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, the official told AFP.

End.

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