By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May 15, 2012 – NATO commitments to Afghanistan expected at the alliance’s summit in Chicago next week will build on progress and will demonstrate long-term international support for Afghanistan while setting the stage for continued progress, the deputy U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan said.
NATO and International Security Assistance Force partner nations will discuss the future of Afghanistan and the region, and are expected to pledge billions of dollars in continued support for Afghanistan’s national security forces beyond 2014, Ambassador James B. Cunningham told American Forces Press Service in a telephone interview from the Afghan capital of Kabul.
Another conference scheduled for mid-June in Kabul will focus on building cooperation, security and prosperity in the region. Japan then will host an international conference in July, with representatives of more than 40 nations expected to discuss continued Afghan economic and development assistance.
“So by the end of the summer, we will have demonstrated, in concrete terms, a very broad and supportive interlocking international support network to support Afghanistan, both in the coming years as we come to the end of the transition in 2014, and beyond,” Cunningham said. “This is a really unique endeavor, I think, that is under way here.”
The goal, he said, is to build on progress already made and ensure a responsible withdrawal that positions the Afghans to face the future.
“We have invested a lot of time and money and lives -- along with our coalition partners and along with the Afghans -- in trying to get to the point where I think we are now, which is a strategy that is working and will work into the future,” Cunningham said. “So we want to be careful that as we are looking to 2014 and beyond, we do so in a way that maintains the gains that have been made and puts the Afghans on their own feet, with support from us and others that will enable them to take charge of their own affairs in a way that has a good chance of success.”
Cunningham pointed to promising developments in Afghanistan, including improvements within the Afghan security forces that provide the foundation for other progress to unfold.
He called Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s May 13 announcement of the third phase in the handover of security responsibilities to Afghan forces “a big step forward.” Once completed, that phase will bring 75 percent of the Afghan population, and all 34 provincial capitals, under the security responsibility of Afghan forces, he noted.
Meanwhile, the new strategic partnership agreement President Barack Obama and signed with Karzai earlier this month commits the United States to ongoing support for Afghanistan’s security forces and economic development long after the drawdown of military forces there. The accord expresses a goal of a bilateral security agreement that lays out technical issues and processes to support an enduring U.S. presence in Afghanistan after 2014.
“So the goal will be to use that agreement to sketch out the framework for what we will be doing here in terms of security cooperation,” the ambassador said.
While it’s too soon to say exactly what that framework will look like, Cunningham said, it will affirm that the United States won’t have permanent bases in Afghanistan and will operate from Afghan installations. “We are not going to have permanent U.S. facilities here, so we will be collocated with our Afghan partners,” he said.
The Afghans, in signing the strategic partnership agreement, committed to promoting democracy, human rights and transparency and to cracking down on corruption.
“Everyone here in Afghanistan and the international community knows that corruption is a big problem,” Cunningham said. He noted a $900 million banking corruption scandal at Kabul Bank that came to light last month and smaller-scale cases that the United States and international community are working with the Afghans to address.
“We are working hard with Afghan individuals and institutions to try to build the capacity and institutional frameworks they need to deal with corruption – as well as to change mindsets here from the notion that corruption is just the normal way of doing business,” Cunningham said.
The goal, he said, is to impress upon the Afghans a recognition that dealing with corruption is essential for the national economy to develop and to attract the foreign investment needed for it to grow.
“So it is a long-term effort,” Cunningham said. “We will continue to work at it, and I think there are a lot of Afghans who agree and want to work with us to make the situation better.”
Cunningham recognized positive momentum in other areas, as well. More students are enrolled in more schools, from the primary grades and through the university system, he said. More girls are attending school, and women are making inroads in government and civil society. Big improvements have been realized in health care over the past two years, with infant mortality down dramatically and 60 percent of Afghans now within relatively easy reach of care.
“So there is a lot of progress made,” Cunningham said, adding that he believes the Afghans are willing to do the hard work required to take it to the next level.
Cunningham credited a “close and virtually seamless network of cooperation” between the U.S. military and some 20 U.S. agencies represented in Afghanistan that have supported positive progress there.
“The effort here has been a success … in building the close and virtually seamless network of cooperation between the civilians and the military which we see every day here in Kabul and in the field,” he said. “That we can forge that kind of partnership here has been instrumental, both in getting results and in preparing for the transition of the security lead to the Afghans and the drawdown of U.S. and ISAF forces.”