As Chicago police confronted demonstrators whose protest against the war and economic policy was kept well away from the heavily guarded summit, Obama welcomed the 27 other government heads to his “home town” and pledged that the 2014 deadline will mean that “the Afghan war as we understand it is over.”
The summit’s initial session dealt with non-Afghanistan issues. The alliance agreed to “operationalize” a missile defense system whose component parts are already in place in four European countries. The system, to protect Europe against ballistic missiles potentially launched from Iran and elsewhere, is expected to have limited capability by 2015 and to be fully operational by 2018.
NATO also signed contracts for its own ground surveillance system, agreeing to purchase and deploy five unarmed Global Hawk drones that will give the alliance capabilities that until now have been available only from the U.S. military. The alliance also moved forward on efforts to more equitably share the cost and contributions to defense operations, now shouldered largely by the United States, and avoid expensive overlaps in capabilities.
No leader raised the subject of the ongoing violence in Syria, said Ivo H. Daalder, U.S. ambassador to NATO.
While “we are very much concerned about the situation of Syria,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said, the alliance has “no intention whatsoever to intervene.”
Although formal meetings on Afghanistan were not scheduled until Monday, that issue is clearly the summit focus. While they prepared to declare that Afghan forces will have the lead military role throughout the country by mid-2013 and looked ahead to complete combat withdrawal at the end of the following year, leaders warned of what Obama called “hard days ahead” between now and then.
“I don’t want to understate the challenge that we have ahead of us,” said Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, the commander of U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. “The Taliban is a resilient and capable opponent,” and “we fully expect that combat is going to continue” as troops are gradually withdrawn over the next 21
Even as the the mission evolves to an advisory role, Allen said, NATO will retain “short-term capabilities” to shift back into the fight if necessary, even in those regions that have already been “transitioned” to the Afghans. Allen, who spoke to reporters, will give an update Monday to an expanded summit meeting that will include all 62 member nations of the coalition in Afghanistan, plus Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.