NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen has reiterated the alliance's commitment to Afganistan beyond its combat mission. Security has been stepped up in Chicago ahead of the alliance's biggest-ever summit.
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has reaffirmed the Western military alliance's pledge that it will not abandon Afghanistan when its last combat troops leave in 2014.
"NATO will continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with Afghanistan so we can help Afghanistan to offer a better future to its citizens and better security to all of ours," Rasmussen said at a NATO policy forum in Chicago on Saturday.
He also called on neighboring Pakistan to do more to support NATO's efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.
"We can't solve the problems in Afghanistan without the positive engagement of Pakistan," Rasmussen said. Specifically he referred to safe havens used by insurgents on the Pakistani side of the border to launch attacks on NATO troops.
"We have to solve these problems," he added.
A different role
His comments came a day before the start of the two-day NATO summit which is also to be held in Chicago. Just how NATO will be involved in Afghanistan beyond 2014 is to top the agenda at the summit.
On Friday, newly elected French President Francois Hollande confirmed that he planned to keep his election promise by pulling out his country's combat troops this year. But after a meeting with US President Barack Obama at the White House, he also pledged that France would remain involved in Afghanistan beyond that point, but in a different way.
France isn't the only NATO member to grow weary of the combat mission. The Netherlands pulled out its combat troops in August 2010, but still has 500 soldiers in the country to train Afghan forces. Canada withdrew its combat troops a year later but has more than 900 military trainers in the country. Afghanistan's security forces are expected to take full responsibility for security in the country in 2014.
The authorities are bracing for major protests planned to coincide with the summit. A major security operation was already visible on Saturday. Thousands of police were deployed along Chicago's main arteries and coast guard vessels with machine guns were patrolling the river.
In a further sign of tensions ahead of the summit, the authorities on Saturday charged three men accused of plotting to attack Obama's election campaign headquarters, the mayor's home, and other targets with Molotov cocktails.
Prosecutors said they had evidence that the three men were self-described anarchists who had travelled to Chicago for the summit, and had boasted that "after NATO, the city will never be the same."
Their defense lawyer said his clients were being held on trumped up charges.
"This is just propaganda to create a climate of fear," Michael Deutsch said. "My clients came to peacefully protest."
The first NATO summit on American soil in more than a decade is to be the biggest in the alliance's history, with around 60 countries and organizations expected to take part.
pfd/ch (AP, Reuters, AFP)