CHICAGO — As he prepared to open the NATO summit Sunday in Chicago, President Obama said Afghanistan is on track to achieving a “transformational decade” of peace and stability as U.S. and other combat forces begin to withdraw and as Afghan security forces take responsibility for keeping the Taliban insurgency at bay.
After meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai for more than an hour, both leaders emphasized NATO’s commitment to helping Afghanistan maintain security and begin reconstruction as the alliance winds down its role in the war, the chief focus of the two-day summit of more than 60 leaders from around the globe.
"Both of us recognize that we still have a lot of work to do,” Obama told reporters, in his first public comments since he arrived here Saturday night following an economic summit at Camp David with the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations. “The loss of life continues in Afghanistan. There will be hard days ahead, but we're confident that we're on the right track.”
Although several NATO allies already have begun to withdraw troops, Obama stressed that he expects the alliance to ratify a plan to draw down all combat forces by the end of 2014. He said the goal is for Afghanistan to “transition from decades of war to a transformational decade of peace, stability and development.”
The Afghan security forces have made “excellent progress,” Obama added.
Karzai, who has had rocky relations with Obama in the past, responded by reaffirming his commitment to the plan and by expressing his country’s goal of achieving “self-reliance.” He said he hoped Afghanistan soon would “no longer be a burden” on the international community.
Officials said the summit will not resolve questions of who will pay for Afghanistan’s long-term development. The Obama administration has offered to pay about half the estimated $4.1 billion required, but other countries have yet to make sufficient financial pledges to make up the difference.
Neither leader took any questions, but Obama did respond when a local reporter asked if he had “gone to the crosstown,” referring to the inter-league games this weekend between the Chicago Cubs, based on the city’s north side, and the White Sox, based on the south side, at Wrigley Field. Obama is a noted White Sox fan.
“I missed it,” Obama replied. He added with a light smile, “They did not let me have fun.”
— Kathleen Hennessey