July 10, 2012

An American Commitment in Afghanistan

The U.S. government took several steps over the weekend to reassure Afghans that America will not abandon their country once the NATO combat mission ends in 2014. Although the assurances do not include a security commitment to Afghanistan per se, the Obama administration and other international partners have agreed to continue development assistance aimed at improving the tenuous security environment. 

On Saturday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton elevated Afghanistan’s role as a strategic partner of the United States. “The United States declared Afghanistan a major, non-NATO ally on Saturday, with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton personally delivering the news of Afghanistan’s entry into a club that includes Israel, Japan, Pakistan and other close Asian and Middle Eastern allies,” The New York Times reported.

The designation as a major, non-NATO ally provides some reassurances that the United States will continue to support the Afghan government’s efforts to bolster security after 2014. According to The New York Times report:

The designation by the United States grants a country special privileges, like access to American military training and excess military supplies, Mrs. Clinton said. In a separate statement, the State Department said Afghanistan would also be able to obtain loans of equipment from the United States and financing for leasing equipment. The agreement does not, however, ‘entail any security commitment’ by the United States to Afghanistan, the State Department said. 

Meanwhile, on Sunday, the United States and other international donors promised significant aid packages to Afghanistan. “Donor nations meeting at a conference on aid to Afghanistan here Sunday pledged $16 billion over the next four years for civilian projects from roads to schools to strengthening rule of law, in exchange for pledges from the Afghan government to combat corruption,” The Washington Post reported, adding:   

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who arrived in Tokyo after a brief stop in Kabul, told the conference that the Obama administration would request from Congress assistance through 2017 that is ‘at or near’ the levels the United States has provided over the past decade, which has ranged from $1 billion to $4 billion annually. In her remarks, Clinton spoke of what the Afghan government and donors have optimistically branded ‘the transformation decade,’ and of the necessity of good governance and transparency.

Some of the development money will likely be designated for sustaining gains made in Afghanistan’s economic infrastructure, including the electric grid and agricultural sector. According to a State Department press release, the United States has funded $1.6 billion in infrastructure projects since 2006, including $386 million in agricultural improvements – a sector that the Obama administration has considered a cornerstone of Afghanistan’s long-term stability.  

Photo: From left to right. Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Pakistan Foreign Minister Hina Rabbani Khar at the Tokyo Conference on Afghanistan in Tokyo on July 8, 2012. Courtesy of the U.S. State Department.