US signals Afghanistan not to be abandoned as war winds down
The United States has named Afghanistan a major non-Nato ally, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Saturday, a move that could reinforce Washington's message to Afghans that they will not be abandoned as the war winds down.
Clinton announced the decision, formally made by President Barack Obama, during her unannounced visit to Kabul where she will meet Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the eve of a major donors' conference in Tokyo which will draw pledges for aid.
"I am going to be announcing formally with President Karzai in just a little bit… There is a very small number of countries that fit into that category," Clinton told US embassy staff in Kabul.
Obama's decision meets a pledge he made on a visit to Afghanistan this year to upgrade Kabul to a special security status given to only a limited number of US partners – including close allies like Israel and Japan – which are not members of Nato.
The status upgrade, which will make it easier for Afghanistan to acquire defence materiel from the US, follows Nato's decision to withdraw most combat troops by the end of 2014.
Participants at the Tokyo meeting are expected to commit just under $4-billion annually in development aid for Afghanistan at Sunday's meeting, though the central bank has said the country needs at least $6-billion a year to foster economic growth over the next decade.
US officials with Clinton declined to say how much aid the US would pledge, which has significantly reduced aid since the peak year of 2010 when more than $6-billion was given, two thirds from Washington.
"I think both the overall hard number of the international assistance as well as the US percentage of that number will be coming down," said one senior official traveling with Clinton.
Now, donor fatigue and war weariness are taking their toll on how long the global community is willing to support Afghanistan, and there are fears that without financial backing, the country could slip back into chaos when foreign troops withdraw.
US officials acknowledged that the trend lines for donating development aid were heading down.
Major donors and aid organisations have warned that weak political will and graft could prevent funds reaching the right people at a critical time, when fragile gains in health and education could be lost if funding does not continue.
Assuaging those fears, the US official added: "But that (amount) is still high enough and specific enough to show that there is a true commitment by the entire international community".
US officials may be reluctant to cite a specific pledge because the sum actually given is ultimately controlled by Congress, which holds the US government's purse strings. Enthusiasm for foreign aid has generally waned in Congress because of massive US budget deficits.
Clinton's talks with Karzai were expected to touch on efforts to achieve reconciliation with the Taliban, the US official added. – Reuters